The deal makes sense for both teams, although given the ages and lack of big league experience for both Franklin and Parker, there is risk involved on both sides. The Rockies get a potential long-term upgrade at second base in Franklin, which has been a site of inconsistency for the team for quite some time. The Mariners get a young power hitting outfielder that could bolster their offense as soon as this year. Let’s break down the exchange.
Franklin, 23, was drafted out of high school as the 27th overall pick in the first round of the 2009 amateur draft. He won’t be arbitration eligible until 2017, so he is under team control through the 2019 season, his age 29 season. Franklin made his major league debut last year as a reprieve from Dustin Ackley’s lack of productivity at second base. But Franklin’s big league call up had more to do with him than it did with Ackley, as he had a robust .872 OPS at AAA Tacoma before getting the call. Although his major league triple slash might not suggest it (.225/.303/.382 in 412 plate appearances), the switch hitting Franklin played well for the Mariners. He hit 34 extra base hits and demonstrated a promising amount of pop, especially for a second basemen. Franklin started his major league experience significantly better than he finished. His wOBA by month from June until September saw some highs and one extraordinary low: .354, .325, .191, and .306. His problem was with contact, as his strikeout rate from July through September was 36, 33, and 28 percent. This is something to pay attention to, and it is a part of the risk with Franklin, but he has shown the ability to adjust to his league. His first experience in AAA in 2012 was lackluster, but he made adjustments in 2013 that precipitated his promotion.
From the defensive side, Franklin is middling. Based on small sample sizes various defensive metrics rated him anywhere from slightly below average to slightly above last year. What we can be sure of is that Franklin shouldn’t be a liability at second base. Prior to the trade, the Mariners insisted that Franklin was competing with Brad Miller for the starting shortstop position in Spring Training. But not very many people believed that, as Miller’s rookie campaign was even better than Franklin’s. What’s more, observers generally agree that Franklin’s arm isn’t good enough to play on the left side of the infield.
So Franklin is a second basemen on the team with the best second baseman in all of baseball, Robinson Cano. It’s not surprising, then, that Franklin has been a trade candidate ever since the Mariners signed Cano. In fact, he was rumored to land on the Rockies in exchange for Dexter Fowler before Fowler was trade to the Houston Astros. That there have been no takers for Franklin until today should give Rockies fans some pause, but not too much. The Mariners might have been asking for too much in return for Franklin; or perhaps teams that could use a second baseman, such as the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Yankees, simply did not or could not make a compelling offer. If everything turns out as planned for the Rockies, the team won’t have to think about their Opening Day second basemen for the next six years because he offers solid offensive production and decent defense—a luxury the Rockies haven’t had since 1997, Eric Young’s final season with the club. The worst case scenario is that Franklin’s extra base power never fully develops, leaving the team with two Josh Rutledges.
The Mariners are taking on a bit more risk than the Rockies, simply because Parker has yet to play in the major leagues. Parker, 24, was drafted 26th overall out of Clemson in the 2010 amateur draft. He’s progressed one level through the minors each year since 2010. Most recently, the right hander impressed with an .837 OPS and 23 home runs in 2013 at AA Tulsa. Like Franklin, Parker is subject to the strikeout. But his potential to turn into a solid power hitter make the strikeouts much easier to take.
As opposed to Franklin, who is already penciled in as the Rockies Opening Day second basemen, Parker will likely continue his progression and begin the season in AAA Tacoma. The Mariners have some time and questionable personnel to allow Parker to get a little bit more seasoning, but they would do well to be patient with him, even if he might not contribute to the major league team as soon as they would like. Parker has developed as a right fielder, but he has been groomed to play first base as well. He therefore presents the Mariners a long-term solution to at least one of their problems. Their current right fielder is the injury prone Corey Hart, who in any case is only signed through 2014. At first base and DH, the Mariners intend to field a combination of Logan Morrison (also signed through 2014) and Justin Smoak. A major plus for the Mariners is that the addition of Parker doubles the number of functioning knee ligaments among this group. Aside from his strong arm, Parker does not offer a lot of defensive value in right field, so after 2014 we might see him slide to first base, mercifully ending the Justin Smoak era for Mariners fans. The best case scenario for the Mariners is that Parker turns into someone who hits 25-30 home runs a year until his first free agent year in 2020, while not hurting the team too much defensively. On the other hand, Parker’s strikeout tendencies might be amplified in the majors, thus neutralizing his power potential.
Early comments on the trade suggest that it is a little strange that the Rockies and Mariners would go through with such a transaction in the midst of Spring Training. But the moving parts make sense regardless of timing, much in the way Christina Kahrl recently suggested that the Cleveland Indians should trade Asdrubal Cabrera to the New York Mets. I would speculate that the Mariners likely never stopped listening to offers for Franklin, and the Rockies approached with a tantalizing youth-for-youth offer. The Rockies no longer have a position battle for second base, and the Mariners no longer have a “position battle” for shortstop. The Mariners everyday shortstop will be Brad Miller, as he always was going to be. The Rockies are expected to begin the season with Franklin at second base and DJ LaMahieu as the utility infielder. Josh Rutledge still has options, so he will begin the season in AAA Colorado Springs and will serve as infield depth in the case of injury.
In sum, the Rockies and Mariners swapped young, cheap talent that fills different areas of need on both ends. The players involved were pulled from areas where each team can afford the loss. The Rockies are probably getting the safer player in Franklin, as well as one who will contribute to the team immediately. The Mariners will have to be a little more patient and tolerate below average defense, but they may end up with the better hitter.
We’ll never look back on this trade as a blockbuster, as both players profile as contributors, not stars. But winning teams need contributors, and both the Seattle Mariners and the Colorado Rockies aim to be winning teams in the near future.
**But doesn’t it sound reasonable?