The word is out: Maikel Franco is looking good.
The Phillies' third baseman has reportedly dropped about five to seven pounds, thanks to a workout regimen that had him getting up before the Dominican sunrise. It was a goal he'd put in place himself, having specified conditioning as an aspect of his game to improve in 2017. It's cool to see a young player take responsibility for himself, and in one repeatedly pointed to as a cornerstone of the Phillies' (nearer and nearer) future, it inspires confidence that he will rebound from a wonky 2016 season.
Philadelphia fan rules, handed down to us by a hideously intoxicated Benjamin Franklin during what historians have referred to only as "the most upsetting children's stickball game in American history," indicate that players are allowed only a single bad season, and only then if it's a sport nobody's watching anyway. The Phillies have fallen out of favor in this city, meaning Franco's sophomore slump didn't even really happen. However, now, if he's not perfect forever, we are not only expected, but actually required by law or face a fine of five schillings and a punishment of death by hanging, to run him out of town. This is actually why every Philadelphia building was constructed with pitchforks and torches beneath the floorboards. Go ahead and wrench up your floors if you don't believe me. Just make sure they're the right boards. There are a lot of horrifying things under a lot of horrifying floors in Philadelphia.
Anyway, as we near the beginning of Franco's 2017 super-campaign, it's only fair to wonder how exactly we should be approaching this. We thought he was going to be huge, but his struggles last season had some even on this site - a site built around the idea of supporting the Phillies - wondering if he was indeed a permanent part of the team's future. If we expect too much of him, he could crumble, or we could set ourselves up to be disappointed. If we expect too little, it would be too easy for him to meet the standard. Logic dictates that we hope for the best and support our young third baseman however he performs.
But since that's absolutely unacceptable, let's mull over our options.
Now, the Phillies need [Franco] to take a giant leap forward so they can get this rebuilding project moving at a faster pace.
It can begin with a single superstar.
I know we've been preaching patience with this Matt Klentak/Andy MacPhail regime, and they've only been at work in Philadelphia for two years, and right across the street at the Wells Fargo Center there's evidence that patience pays off during a rebuild, but what if we Philadelphians were to, quite uncharacteristically, lose all grasps on reality and demand one of our sports teams quit pussyfooting around start winning games, placing the brunt - or, let's just call it what it is, the "entirety" - of the responsibility on a single player's shoulders.
Do we understand the level of stress that could poison a young player with tremendous upside? Of course we do not. We're too busy dragging our untied shoelaces through puddles to comprehend pressure of that magnitude. But it doesn't matter! The 2008 World Series good will has all dried up - none of the guys from that team are even here anymore! It's time for a superstar! Not a bunch of No. 2 and No. 3 pitchers, not a grab bag of relievers serving as the closer, not loose parts from the free agent junk drawer, not farmhand randos (or "farmhandos" as we will now be calling them) from the minors - one guy who hits the ball always, is charming in interviews, gives all the kids autographs, pies his teammates after walk-offs, gives the columnists somebody to write painfully vanilla books about when they retire, and did I mention he never doesn't hit the ball?
It's time for that guy to be here.
Rebuilding is a process, but one process in town is enough. The Phillies don't have to take forever to be a great team again and Franco getting his head on straight can be the key factor they need to do so. Who cares about all of the other stuff? If he's the star he's supposed to be, everyone will just shower in the runoff of his talent and exponentially improve as well. Iverson took the Sixers to the Finals with Dikembe Mutumbo and Eric Snow.
Is that a flawed comparison, given that it's a different sport and Franco at his best probably isn't an Iverson-level talent because very few are? It doesn't matter. Nothing written here has to make sense, because nobody here is Maikel Franco.
Franco will soon report to spring training, where he will meet [Michael] Saunders and [Howie] Kendrick in the clubhouse in Clearwater, Fla. [Tommy] Joseph will be in major-league camp after spending last spring in the minors. It could bring a sense of relief for Franco. He has some help.
Yes, the Phillies added some low key bats this off season in a curious strategy that forms an offense not revolving around a single player. Michael Saunders hit competently for half of 2016 and Howie Kendrick had the worst season of his life at the plate. Joseph was one of the Phillies' four twenty-home run hitters last season. It's a collective of guys who could all perform well for a given stretch, just pick a narrative - one showed flashes of power, one is a prime bounce-back candidate, and one laid the foundation off which to build a career - but it feels unlikely that they'll all get hot together, or possibly at all. It's what the 2017 Phillies would call "help," and it certainly has the potential to be help when the real help isn't here yet. It's fine.
And it certainly could take some weight off Franco's shoulders, especially if Saunders starts off on a tear and then hands the hot streak off to Kendrick, a slow starter and slow finisher last year but a guy who hit .286 from May to August, and then Joseph takes on the slugger mantle for a September surge that's meaningless to everybody except himself and probably me. And his family and loved ones I guess. My point is, sure; these guys, and other parts of the offense - the Phillies did just lock up Odubel Herrera and are waiting to see what the hell the weird new offensive outputs of Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez are all about - could keep the blame from falling solely on Franco.
Meanwhile, as we concentrate our spittle fire on each of the guys listed above as they systematically succeed and fail, our boy here can hang out in the background, working on that plate discipline he's supposed to have developed this winter. Apparently, he'd been going up to bat last year and "didn't have a plan." Almost like he planned to "swing at everything." .
You could barely tell.
This is certainly the healthier option, the cooler option, the more relaxed option. This way is better for everyone.
What if Franco isn't a superstar this year, either, but somebody else breaks out, and Franco hits a balmy .280? That would be fine. There is no reason to put that kind of pressure on Franco, who is a 24-year-old, or Citizens Bank Park security, who have a habit of chasing down anyone who yells unkind things at players and then runs away like a coward to hide in the bathroom line.
The right thing to do, as always, is to remain as rational and understanding as possible. Of course, I just looked down and realized I must have unconsciously grabbed the crow bar I use specifically for wrenching up my floorboards, so we may not actually have much choice in the matter. Good luck, Maikel!