The past couple of days have seen their fair share of rumors for the Tampa Bay Rays. Middle infielder Nick Franklin of the Seattle Mariners has been rumored to be available for some time, and apparently the Rays have been interested in him for a while. At Rays Colored Glasses, Peter Gordon already examined why the Rays want Franklin, and Robbie Knopf looked at when the Rays came close to acquiring Franklin early this offseason. In this piece I will answer another question: if the Rays in fact acquire Franklin, where would his place be on their roster in 2014?
Franklin has good upside, mainly because of his promise with the bat. He has the ability to hit for a high average as well as provide around 15 home runs a year, which is very valuable coming from a middle infield position. However, after his rookie season in 2013 did not go as planned, the Rays could very well send him to Triple-A to start the year. Franklin saw time in 102 big league games for Seattle last season, putting up a .225/.303/.382 line (90 wRC+). He was called up after starting the year hot, posting a .324/.440/.472 line (147 wRC+) in 39 Triple-A games. However, in 85 games the year before in Triple-A he was a below average hitter, and his time in the big leagues was even worse. If you put together the evidence, Franklin might have been slightly rushed to the big leagues. That doesn’t mean that he has a poor bat by any means, simply that he might need a bit more exposure to upper-level pitching. The Rays have plenty of middle infielders this year, with Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, Logan Forsythe, and Sean Rodriguez all currently projected to make the roster. Thus, the Rays wouldn’t need Franklin on the big league roster, and could send him back to Triple-A until he finds sustained success with the bat.
While Nick Franklin’s numbers weren’t inspiring in 2013, his upside is still noticeably greater than that of Forsythe and Rodriguez. With that in mind, the Rays could elect to make room for Franklin on the big league roster as a bench player with the opportunity to work his way into more time. Franklin is versatile, and could become more so with Joe Maddon as his coach, so he would slot in nicely on the Rays’ roster. They could make room for him in two ways. First of all would be to send Forsythe to the minors. He does have an option remaining, and while he is probably a better player than Sean Rodriguez, he could be sent to Triple-A for depth reasons. By sending Forsythe to the minors, the Rays would not need to get rid of any players on their roster. We all know how much Andrew Friedman prioritizes depth, so this could very well be what happened if Franklin were to make the big league club.
The Rays’ second option would be to trade a player away to make room for Franklin. The obvious choice would be Rodriguez, who is probably the Rays’ weakest bench player. Franklin is an upgrade over Rodriguez both in terms of present ability and long-term upside. Rodriguez might not bring a huge return in a trade, but his versatility off the bench and knack at hitting lefties would bring back something of value. There aren’t many teams out there who couldn’t use a player with the versatility of Rodriguez, so the market for him would likely be fine. Another option to trade would be Matt Joyce, who was commonly mentioned as a trade candidate during the offseason. His bat is decent enough against righties, but he can’t hit lefties and struggles defensively in the outfield, so he is fairly expendable. Trading Joyce would mean the Rays have no clear DH, but the Rays would have no problem using a DH-by-committee, something that would also clear at-bats for Franklin. Joyce’s solid bat against righties would also net the Rays something in return. Overall, if the Rays could add Franklin and flip either Rodriguez or Joyce for a mid-level prospect, it might be the best way to upgrade the team.
If Nick Franklin is indeed acquired, the Tampa Bay Rays will surely find room for him. Franklin could be sent back to Triple-A to further develop his bat, or he could see time on the big league roster. Right now, there is no clear path on how the Rays would accommodate Franklin on the major league squad, but for a player with Franklin’s upside, we can be confident that the Rays would find a way if they can acquire him for the right price. Franklin is the type of young player the Rays love, and roster considerations will not hold them back from making a deal happen.