With two weeks left in spring training, the Orioles on Tuesday bolstered their depth at third base and added a potential starter at the position by signing free agent Maikel Franco to a major league deal for 2021.
According to MLB Network, Franco will make $800,000 this year. His contract allows for him to begin the season at the team’s alternate training site in Bowie on an option because of the late start to spring training he’s getting, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias confirmed. Franco is expected to begin working out with the Orioles on Wednesday.
“Maikel Franco, I think, is someone that is going to help us a lot and fit in very well with the personnel that we have on this roster,” Elias said. “I think it gives us not only an upgrade in different spots in the lineup and at various positions in the lineup and a right-handed bat that fits in very well with some of our other personnel, but it also makes our team deeper and protects us against what’ll be a long season and the ups and downs and injuries that happen over the course of the season.”
Franco, a former top prospect with the Philadelphia Phillies who was signed when Orioles senior director of international scouting Koby Perez was in Philadelphia, played in all 60 games for the Kansas City Royals in 2020.
As the Royals’ everyday third baseman, Franco, 28, hit .278 with a .778 OPS and eight home runs.
Before that, Franco spent four years as a regular for the Phillies. He hit .247 with a .725 OPS from 2016 to 2019. He has three seasons with 20 or more home runs in his resume, but as he reached his later years of salary arbitration, the Phillies decided to move on.
While with the New York Mets, Orioles right-hander Matt Harvey faced Franco in National League East matchups and was his teammate late year in Kansas City. After his start Monday, Harvey said Franco would be a welcome addition if a deal was finalized.
“Obviously, playing against him when he was with the Phillies and then playing with him last year, the guy’s got some serious pop and can do some damage, for sure,” Harvey said. “Having him at third, whoever it is, obviously, I’m not in charge of those decisions, but he definitely has an unbelievable arm and plays a good third base. He can swing it. From the short season last year that I spent time with him, he’s a great teammate. Whatever obviously is decided, it’ll be good to have some extra bats always.”
Over the past two years, the Orioles have relied heavily on Rio Ruiz as their everyday third baseman. He has hit .229 with a .692 OPS and 21 home runs in 181 games with Baltimore. The Orioles have been in contact with Franco over the course of this month, but perhaps the match made more sense as they saw their depth at the position with Ruiz missing a week-plus with an illness.
Asked last week about how he felt about the team’s depth options at third base, with Pat Valaika, Ramón Urías, Rylan Bannon, and Stevie Wilkerson all getting time there, manager Brandon Hyde only said that the team had plenty of choices and were looking at all of them.
Elias said Franco and Ruiz can coexistence on the Orioles’ roster.
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“I think it’s definitely a possibility to have any of these guys in an Opening Day mix together,” Elias said. “It’s gonna depend on some other decisions that we make, and so it’s hard to address that as a one-off on March 16, but certainly, seems very possible to me that both those guys are on the team at the same time the whole year, if that’s what happens, so that’s why we like the signing. We see an avenue for a lot of these guys to blend together and create some options for Brandon and some competition and we’ll see where it goes.”
Harvey (oblique) to 60-day IL
To create space on the Orioles’ full 40-man roster, the Orioles placed right-hander Hunter Harvey on the 60-day injured list with a left oblique strain he suffered while pitching Friday.
Elias said the 60-day countdown doesn’t officially begin until Opening Day, which will keep Harvey out for almost all of May. Baltimore’s first-round draft pick in 2013, Harvey suffered a series of arm injuries that delayed his big league debut until 2019. He was electric in seven appearances, but a tired arm prompted the Orioles to shut him down and end his season early.
He began 2020 on the IL as well, meaning when Harvey returns, he will have spent more days of his major league career on the IL than on the active roster. In 17 career appearances, he has a 3.00 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 15 innings.
“He’ll bounce back,” Elias said. “We just want to make sure that his arm is ramped up properly and he’s in shape.”
More camp cuts
The Orioles optioned five prospects to Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday in outfielders Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna, infielders Rylan Bannon and Tyler Nevin, and pitcher Ashton Goudeau. Catcher Taylor Davis was also reassigned to their Twin Lakes camp.
“Guys had good camps,” Elias said of the prospects. “They’re knocking on the door and on our radar screen this year, and I think we might see any or all of them debut, so all those guys showed well, but we’re at the point in camp where we’re starting to pare down.”