Rumors are flying that the Rays are interested in obtaining Nick Franklin of the Seattle Mariners. Some reports said that a deal was almost done a few weeks ago, but Jeremy Hellickson’s injury scuttled it. Not that the deal was Hellickson for Franklin necessarily–rather a prospect the Rays felt was expendable suddenly became unavailable because they had to be more concerned about their starting depth. Nevertheless, the Rays and Mariners are talking again and the Rays are considered the best potential trade partner for the Seattle.
Nick Franklin doesn’t have a job for the Mariners because the team signed Robinson Cano. Yet Franklin still has great upside. A first round pick n 2009 out of Lake Brantley High School in Central Florida, Franklin made steady progress through the Seattle system and was hitting .324 with a .440 on base percentage in 39 games at Triple A when the Mariners made him their second baseman last year, teaming with another prospect out of Central Florida, Brad Miller, at shortstop. In his first year in the majors, the 22 year-old Franklin, a switch hitter, hit .225 but with just a .303 on base percentage but showed impressive power for a middle infielder, slamming 20 doubles and 12 homers in 412 plate appearances. Franklin’s rookie year certainly could have gone better, but his talent remains evident and he should only get better from here.
The Rays are interested in Franklin because he’s a young player with promise. However, Franklin became especially relevant for the Rays when Ben Zobrist went down with an injury. Zobrist, one of the key players for the team since 2008, will turn 33 this year and currently is battling a sore back. He is already returning to action, so his injury should not be a big deal, but it could come up again. Would the Rays perform well if Sean Rodriguez, Logan Forsythe, and Jayson Nix were forced into starting duty on second base? And considering his age, the Rays have to start looking towards the future, and Franklin could be the answer. Acquiring an improving player who hit the same number of homers Zobrist hit in 2013 in 276 fewer plate appearances is only a bonus.
If the Rays acquire Franklin, there is a decent chance he would start the season back at Triple-A, but the Rays could certainly work him into big league time whenever he is ready. The Rays could start moving Zobrist around again, or they may even have Zobrist teach Franklin the craft of playing multiple positions. He can already play shortstop and second base, and if the Rays bring him aboard, it may be only a matter of time until he is playing the outfield as well. Trading for Franklin may eventually lead to another move–could the Rays trade Rodriguez or Matt Joyce?–but Franklin would be an upgrade over the players the Rays have and they would love to get him at the right price.
It is possible that teams more desperate for middle infielders, like the New York Mets, may be willing to pay a greater price for Franklin than the Tampa Bay Rays. Having him would be a luxury for the Rays more than anything else. But you never have enough talented players, and if the Rays can land Franklin at a reasonable price, they ought to jump at the chance.