Should Phillies Extend Maikel Franco Now?


Maikel Franco started his season at the major league level a bit later than the rest of his Phillies teammates, yet he has become the lone bright spot in the club’s offensive attack.

Through Tuesday’s game, Franco is hitting to a .293/.337/.535 slash line with 10 home runs, 32 RBI, and a palatable 28/9 K:BB ratio, all good for 0.7 bWAR.

While his defense may be questionable (neither Fangraphs nor Baseball Reference rank him favorably), most can say that for now, he’s their best option at the hot corner.

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Franco’s contributions have vaulted him into the discussion for NL Rookie of the Year. His stats are at least comparable to those of Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson, who some in the general public might feel have already run away from the pack in the race for that award. Nevertheless, it’s quite apparent that Franco has become a player with whom the team can at least begin it’s long-awaited rebuild.

Included in all the news surrounding a new ownership structure in the Phillies’ front office, there was a lot of talk about an increased use of analytics to help guide decision-making. The new face of the ownership group, billionaire businessman John Middleton, seems to be someone unwilling to make bad business decisions, and would certainly like to see the best possible return on his investment in the club. Though it’s not really a sabermetric decision, this is where it begs the question: is it time to give Franco a contract extension?

A trend in Major League Baseball over the past few years, starting with Evan Longoria’s first contract, has been to extend your best young players in order to achieve a cost certainty over their arbitration years. Ask anyone about arbitration, and you will find that it’s not the sabermetric stuff that is most important, but rather the “counting” numbers – home runs, RBI, batting average, etc.

Howard received initial massive arbitration awards due in large part to his production of counting numbers, such as homers and RBI.

(Photo Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

This favoring of those more traditional numbers helps explain how Ryan Howard was able to achieve his massive $10 million arbitration award in 2008. In 2007, he was only worth 2.9 bWAR, yet got this number because his 105 home runs and 285 RBI the previous two seasons were something that caused the arbitrator to pause and smile (his MVP in 2006 and ROY in 2005 didn’t hurt either).

Due to this fear of paying enormous salaries to emerging young stars, smaller to mid-market teams began locking up young players with contract extensions earlier in their careers, so they wouldn’t have to pay that kind of salary raise. In some cases, such as Longoria with the Rays, it has worked out marvelously. In others, such as Jedd Gyorko with the San Diego Padres, it has not worked out very well.

With Franco, it would seem that because of his skill set (power, ability to drive in runs), he might be a player who would do well when it does come time to go arbitration. The Phillies might be smart in trying to lock him up with an extension now, before he gets expensive.

It’s worth noting that arbitration is a long way off for the team and Franco. Due to his late promotion, the team successfully gained another year of service time from Franco before he can take them to the bargaining table. The youngster isn’t eligible for salary arbitration until 2019, when he will be 26 years old. However, by that time, if he continues hitting at even close to his current rate, he will be worth a lot of money.

Let’s look at some other examples of contract extensions to determine what might be fair for the club to offer the young third baseman. Using MLB Trade Rumors Extension Tracker, we can look at comparable players according to service time to see what the team might offer Franco.

Since Franco is so young, the only real filter would be players with less than a year of service time. With that list, we find five players:

  • Jon Singleton – 5 yrs/$10 million with 3 option years (0 service days at time of signing)
  • Chris Archer – 6 yrs/$23 million with 2 option years (0.156)
  • Salvador Perez – 5 yrs/$7 million with 3 option years (0.050)
  • Matt Moore – 5 yrs/$17 million with 3 option years (0.017)
  • Evan Longoria – 6 years/$17.5 million with 3 option years (0.024)

You can see that Tampa Bay has led the charge, and the reasons have been well documented: young stars, small market, desire to keep the player long-term.

It seems that in determining a standard length of the contract, the club strategy is to buy out the pre-arb and arbitration time, with option years added at the end in what would be the beginning of their free agent lives. I’m sure you don’t need an explanation as to why those option years are added, so I won’t bother with it.

Most of the listed players were highly touted prospects heading into the beginning of their careers (Moore, Archer and Longoria were their teams’ top prospect at various points), so their teams felt comfortable offering these deals. Franco’s pedigree suggests the Phillies should be as well.

I’m thinking that perhaps a 6 year/$18 million deal with two option years added on might be a good starting point for talks. After all, Franco does have more service time (though not by much) than any hitter on this list, so the Phillies would certainly have to adjust for that factor.

As I stated before, it’s not exactly the most pressing issue that the team faces now. It’s almost certainly one that they wouldn’t address until new club President Andy MacPhail takes over in the fall. Finding the right talent to mix with Franco is more important at this time.

However, if the Phillies organization is truly committed to catching up with the rest of the league, perhaps this is an appropriate starting point to demonstrate that in Philly, there is indeed a new way of doing  business.