The Mariners are billing the Brad Miller-Nick Franklin battle as a legitimate fight for the starting shortstop job, but the reality is Miller is almost assuredly going to win as most scouts don’t believe Franklin can handle the defensive duties at shortstop on a regular basis. There’s a reason Franklin was moved to second base last year: The Mariners believed Miller had the better glove.
Of course, Franklin won’t be playing second base this year and the Mariners signed Willie Bloomquist as the utility infielder, so that makes Franklin prime trade bait, as has been rumored ever since Seattle signed Robinson Cano.
After a hot start -- Franklin was hitting .287/.345/.485 through his first 37 games -- he struggled in the second half (.194, 77 strikeouts in 243 plate appearances) and finished at .225/.303/.382, which made him a slightly below-average hitter when factoring in the Safeco Field park effects. So he showed promise with 20 doubles and 12 home runs and an acceptable walk rate but needs to cut down on the strikeouts. He also should consider giving up switch-hitting; he never hit well from the right side in the minors and hit .210 with just one home run in 119 at-bats from the right side in the majors. His defense at second base was a work in progress, but he graded at zero defensive runs saved, making him an average defender (UZR had him at minus-7 runs).
Overall, it’s a decent package of talent for a young player who just turned 23. If you believe in the bat, he could turn into a solid regular; if not, maybe he’s Kelly Johnson. Still, at the pre-arbitration point in his career, he’s inexpensive, and that has trade value, but not as much as the Mariners may like.
So, where could he go? The Mariners could use a starting pitcher, a right-handed outfielder or maybe some bullpen help. Let’s throw out some ideas and see if any sticks.
Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers signed Cuban Alex Guerrero, but he hasn’t impressed and will almost certainly begin the year in the minors, making Dee Gordon the likely second baseman on Opening Day. With Matt Kemp’s health a question mark, the Dodgers suddenly aren’t so eager to unload Ethier since they may need him to play center field. The Dodgers are loaded in the bullpen, so maybe a guy like Chris Withrow or hard-throwing Juan Dominguez. Spare outfielder Scott Van Slyke would fit Seattle’s need for a guy who can hit lefties.
New York Yankees: The Yankees get brought up a lot, as they’re relying on injury-prone veteran Brian Roberts and Brendan Ryan to play second, and Ryan will probably have to regularly fill in for Derek Jeter at shortstop. The Yankees don’t have a lot of major league-ready depth in the rotation, but what about the loser of the Michael Pineda-David Phelps rotation battle? Mariners fans would love to welcome back Pineda, health risks and all (maybe they toss Jesus Montero back to the Yankees!).
Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman has been taking ground balls at first base, perhaps opening up a possible move of Anthony Rendon to his natural position of third base. Adam LaRoche didn’t hit all that well last season and is in the final year of his contract, so they could bring in Franklin as a utility guy this year and then shift Zimmerman and Rendon next year after LaRoche leaves. The Nationals have rotation depth with Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan. Danny Espinosa is still around, so there’s a need to trade for Franklin if the Nationals believe Espinosa can rebound from a washout 2013 season; if not, Franklin would be a good fit.
Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles have a logjam of mediocrity at second base with Ryan Flaherty, Jemile Weeks and Alexi Casilla, none of whom stir up memories of Bobby Grich or even Rich Dauer. The Orioles have many starting pitching candidates, but most are of the No. 5-caliber variety. The Mariners could try a reclamation project like Zach Britton but would certainly want more than that for Franklin.
New York Mets: Maybe the Mets would be interested in Franklin as a shortstop? Seems unlikely, but Ruben Tejada doesn’t exactly have the position locked down. They could bring in Franklin and see if he can handle the position, and then move him over to second base (where he’d be a defensive upgrade on Daniel Murphy) if he can’t. But the Mets aren’t likely to surrender any of their premium pitching prospects for a guy unlikely to stick at shortstop.
Miami Marlins: Jake Marisnick is sort of the odd man out in the Giancarlo Stanton/Christian Yelich/Marcell Ozuna outfield. He was rushed to the majors last season and struggled even more than Franklin, so it’s unlikely the Mariners would view this as a one-for-one possibility.