Tampa Bay Rays: Why Is Nick Franklin Still on the Roster?


This has been a great Tampa Bay Rays season thus far–I hope we can all agree on that. However, other than the injuries that have never seemed to end, the most frustrating thing that has happened all season has been Nick Franklin‘s inability to help the team in any way. He is hitting to just a .143/.211/.257 line while making mistake after mistake in the field. His poor play leads us to three questions: 1) Did the Rays make a huge mistake when they acquired him in the David Price trade? 2) Why is he still on the team? and 3) Why is he still on the 25-man roster?

In regards to the first question, the biggest thing to note no matter what happens with Franklin is that making the right trade at the time does not guarantee that the move will work out well in the end. There is variability that comes with every player, and that is only truer with prospects and relatively unproven young players. Franklin was a top prospect until he exhausted his rookie eligibility and the Rays saw him as a potential starting second baseman with the versatility to play elsewhere. The Rays took a worthwhile risk, but the unfortunate truth is that even worthwhile risks don’t always work out.

That being said–and now we are getting up to the second question–we have only seen 76 plate appearances from Franklin so far. He has playing extremely badly, failing to show that bat speed that made him highly regarded and losing focus too often in the field. At the end of the day, though, his poor play now does not erase the past. He is still a talented player, and sometimes such players can’t find their way in the major leagues immediately.

As soon as I saw how badly Franklin was playing, Stephen Vogt came to mind. I have been saying that for weeks, and though I can’t find a place where I actually wrote it down in the comments or on Twitter, I have since seen other people say the same thing. It is not just me having this thought. Even as Tampa Bay Rays fans watch Franklin struggle, they understand the danger of cutting ties with him too early. He has been a disaster so far and could use more Triple-A time, but we have to expect that he will eventually get past his problems. If that happens anytime soon, the Rays will have done something wrong if he isn’t still on their team.

To clearly answer Question 2, Nick Franklin remains with the Rays because he still certainly has the ability to turn himself around. It may not come soon and it may not even come this season, but cutting a promising player too soon is a significant mistake. Look at Vogt with the Oakland Athletics versus Alex Gordon with the Kansas City Royals–the Royals have reaped huge benefits for keeping Gordon around. Even though there is a chance that Franklin never find himself, a 40-man roster spot is a small price to pay for a young player with his upside.

However, that leads us directly into the third question. I hope you agree with me that Franklin deserves to remain with the team, but you have every right to ask why he hasn’t he been sent to Triple-A. He has two options remaining and is clearly struggling. Aside from the fact that he is only hurting the Rays right now, it would serve him well to play every day in a lower-pressure environment, especially given that he will likely need adjustments to his swing mechanics. It seems crazy that he is still in the major leagues.

As the Rays look to replace him, the obvious candidate is Richie Shaffer. The 2012 first rounder has an outstanding .301/.395/.699 line in 86 plate appearances since coming to Triple-A Durham. He strikes out too much and he could use more time with the Bulls, but even so, he can’t be any worse than Franklin and the Rays’ current first base options. Why don’t the Rays call him up to be their regular first baseman until James Loney returns?

The answer is that Shaffer is not on the 40-man roster, and even if we ignore any uncertainty about his ability to perform in the majors right now, it makes no sense to add him. The Rays currently have 39 players on their 40-man roster, and they could easily create two more spots by moving Desmond Jennings to the 60-day disabled list and designating the unimpressive Preston Guilmet for assignment. However, Matt Moore and John Jaso will come off the 60-day DL in the next month, and both Jennings and Drew Smyly could return in August. The Rays really have much less room than you would think.

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One factor in Shaffer’s favor is that he needs to be added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft following the season. It would not necessarily be a bad thing for the Rays to make that happen a few months earlier. However, whatever he gives the Rays would likely be canceled out and then some by the lack of 40-man flexibility they would have once Loney came back. If Moore and Jaso are on the roster along with Loney and Shaffer, then the Rays would have to DFA someone beyond Guilmet just to add another reliever to the roster. Then, once Jennings and/or Smyly returns, things would only get worse.

If the Rays were confident that Shaffer could come up and be a star, then that wouldn’t matter. However, the Rays began him at Double-A this year and are still worrying about the strikeouts. Even if he could be a decent major league player right now, he has to be much more to warrant adding him to the 40-man roster, and they aren’t certain enough that he can be. It would be one thing to call up a guy that you can designate for assignment in a few weeks–promoting Shaffer, who would stick on the 40-man for the foreseeable future, would make things much more complicated.

With that in mind, the Rays certainly have the option of calling up a player from Triple-A Durham who they would be willing to designate for assignment in a few weeks. However, there is no one that looks worth the Rays’ time. The Bulls have had three players play first base this year, Allan Dykstra, J.P. Arencibia, and Vince Belnome. Dykstra has the highest OPS of the three at .712 and we already saw how hopeless he looked in the big leagues. (And unlike Franklin, he hasn’t been a well-regarded prospect for a very long time.)

The only players with a higher OPS than Dykstra on the Bulls that are not already in the majors are Alexi Casilla, who has been hurt, Corey Brown, who has little plate discipline and can’t play first base, and Taylor Motter, who is a lesser version of the Shaffer situation because the Rays don’t want to add him and DFA him. At the end of the day, the Rays’ best move is simply to keep Franklin and play him as little as possible. He will be demoted once Beckham, Jaso, or Loney is ready, but until then, paying another player a big league salary to hit similarly to Franklin with less positional flexibility doesn’t make sense.

If the Rays made a mistake in this whole thing, it was not acquiring Travis Ishikawa or someone like that a few weeks ago to be their regular first baseman while Loney was out. At this point, though, what’s done is done and even if Franklin would be better off at Triple-A, now is not the time to demote him. We have to believe that Nick Franklin will end up at Durham by the middle of July unless his play rapidly starts turning around. But given the Rays’ current situation, it makes sense–even though it is frustrating–that he remains on the roster for now.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Matt Moore Almost Ready