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Maikel Franco isn’t making this easy on the Phillies…or maybe he is

Maikel Franco is in the midst of a scorching-hot mont of July. (Keith Allison, Wikimedia Commons)

Maikel Franco stepped to the plate at Great American Ballpark in the top of the fifth inning Thursday night having already watched Rhys Hoskins, Carlos Santana and Nick Williams launch home runs. So Franco joined the party, launching his 16th home run of the season. The next time the 25-year-old came to the plate, in the seventh inning, he hit his 17th home run of the season.

Franco has joined and started a lot of parties over the last month plus. Since J.P. Crawford was placed on the disabled list with a broken hand on June 20, Franco is hitting .344 with eight home runs and 16 RBIs. Dating back to last September, Franco, who will turn 26 next month, is hitting .273 with 22 home runs and 63 RBIs in 384 at-bats.

A month ago, Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals felt like he would be an immediate upgrade over Franco. But Moustakas, a two-time All-Star, is slashing .249/.309/.468 with 20 home runs, 62 RBIs and 1.7 offensive WAR. Franco is slashing .273/.317/.490 with 17 home runs, 52 RBIs and a 3.0 offensive WAR in 2018. At best, Moustakas would be a lateral move right now. When you consider that he’s nearly four years older than Franco, would require a trade return to acquire and is a free-agent at the conclusion of the season, that type of trade wouldn’t make much sense at this juncture.

In that sense, Franco has made things easier on general manager Matt Klentak. Though the possibility exists that he regresses in the final two months of the season, for the time being he’s lessened the pressure on the front-office to make an impact addition to the left side of the infield.

The interesting angle here is how Franco’s performance will affect his long-term standing with the team. He remains under team control through 2021. If he continues to perform like he has over the past month – or even just since last September – the Phillies will be forced to reevaluate whether he fits into their plans beyond 2018. The Phillies played 13 times between June 8 and June 20. In four of those games, he appeared only as a pinch-hitter. In five of those games, Franco altogether didn’t plan. It’s safe to say that six weeks ago, the Phillies were prepared to move on from Franco after the 2018 season, if not prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

This offseason, the Phillies are widely expected to pursue Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado. With Cesar Hernandez still under contract for 2019, Scott Kingery could still find himself competing for time on the left side of the infield. Crawford is a natural shortstop, who defensive metrics in a small sample size at the major league have been better at third base. And then there’s Franco.

Figuring out how (or if) Franco fits into the equation for 2019 and beyond is certainly a harder discussion than it was in May or June. So Franco hasn’t made this decision easy for the Phillies. Perhaps that’s a good problem to have.

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