A’s reportedly targeting Nick Franklin

 It’s not very often that a high major league ready middle infield prospect with plenty of upside is placed on the trade block, but that’s essentially where Nick Franklin has been since the Seattle Mariners signed Robinson Cano back in December. Despite the presence of Cano and incumbent shortstop Brad Miller the 23-year old was given a chance in Spring Training to earn a major league job, but was optioned down to Triple-A in March where he has spent the majority of the 2014 season thus far.

On Monday, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Oakland Athletics are keen on the young infielder and consider him a “top target”. There was nothing in the report to suggest the A’s and M’s are actively involved in trade talks but it’s likely the two sides have at least exchanged some information on the topic as all teams do plenty of their own due diligence throughout the summer months. Franklin’s name has been coming up frequently in trade rumors as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline approaches and was most recently connected to the Tampa Bay Rays in a potential deal for Ben Zobrist and possibly David Price.

So far this year the Athletics have employed a combination of Nick Punto and Eric Sogard at second base and Jed Lowrie has seen a majority of the playing time at shortstop. Lowrie is having a down season offensively owning a .237/.317/.344 slash line and an 87 wRC+ across 395 plate appearances after a strong year at the plate in 2013. He has continued to play his typical brand of strong defence however, so it’s unclear whether or not the club could look to Franklin for an upgrade at short in the present or with more thoughts towards the future. Lowrie will be a free agent after the 2014 campaign.

It seems very likely that the A’s would view Franklin as an upgrade at second base as the club has gotten 60 wRC+ from the position so far this year, which the second lowest total in the majors. For what it’s worth, Mariner second basemen have racked up 122 wRC+ this year, good for second best in the league. Of course that was the kind of performance, for the most part anyways, that’s expected when a club invests $240 million into the position.

Punto, signed as a free agent in the offseason, has played well enough defensively, but has struggled offensively to the tune of a .209/.303/.288 line and a 73 wRC+ in 186 plate appearances — all three are well below his career marks. The 36-year old has always been better known for his versatility in the diamond, but presumably the A’s were hoping for production closer to the 89 wRC+ he put with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year.

Sogard hasn’t fared much better than Punto as his paltry .194/.261/.225 slash line contributes to a measly 41 wRC+. The 28-year old posted a 92 wRC+ in regular playing time in 2013 so as with Punto, the Athletics were hoping for more than they’ve received from the the spectacled infielder so far. Sogard has done his job defensively however, and will be arbitration eligible after this season.

The Athletics need an upgrade at second base, that much is obvious, but whether or not they could match up in a potential deal with the Mariners remains to be seen. They don’t have an available outfield bat that the M’s sorely need and they’d probably be hesitant to trade someone like Stephen Vogt at the moment. Outfielder Craig Gentry, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Texas Rangers, could be an option with regular right fielder Josh Reddick set to return from the disabled list.

Gentry isn’t anything special offensively though his .271 batting average and 83 wRC+ on the year would represent an upgrade over Dustin Ackley‘s performance. The 30-year old is above average defensively and also has 16 stolen bases to his credit on the year. His ability to play center field probably makes him too valuable to the A’s to deal given the fact that Coco Crisp could go down at any moment so it’s unlikely he’d be moved. It’s unlikely Franklin could get Seattle the bat they need, but it’s possible he could extract a starting pitcher.

Left-hander Tommy Milone was demoted to Triple-A after his club acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a blockbuster with the Chicago Cubs and has asked Oakland to trade him according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports. Milone had made 16 starts with the club before the demotion and was 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA and a 4.43 FIP. The 27-year old made 26 starts for the A’s in 2013 and put together a 4.14 ERA and a 4.30 FIP across 156 and 1/3 innings pitched.

[pullquote]Milone was a tenth round draft pick of the Washington Nationals in 2008 and was sent to Oakland in a December 2011 trade for Gio Gonzalez.[/pullquote]

In several ways Milone resembles current Mariner starter Chris Young; his fastball tends to sit in the mid to upper 80’s, he doesn’t strike out a lot of batters, and relies on getting a lot of ground ball outs. Seattle could use another starter to resolve some of the uncertainty surrounding the back end of their rotation, but there’s no reason to believe Oakland is definitely going to deal the frustrated starter. He’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time after this season and no team wants to be short on pitching depth heading into the stretch run. He could also figure into the club’s plans for 2015 and beyond.

It’s unlikely that the M’s would be willing to deal Franklin straight up for Milone, and depending on whether or not the A’s would be willing to deal the starter in the first place and add another piece, a match appears unlikely. Also, don’t put any stock into believing a deal couldn’t happen because the two teams are division rivals in a playoff race. Does the situation complicate things? Of course, but the M’s feel the best deal to be made is with the Athletics, they’ll probably do it.

The caveat here is whether or not the two clubs will even allow talks to substantiate and may prefer to try and make deals with other parties and avoid even the possibility of helping the other out. It’s also likely that Seattle could see more benefit from dealing Franklin to another club if they decide they don’t want to hang on to him until the winter at the least.

Franklin returns to the Tacoma Rainiers tonight after missing a handful of games with a finger injury, while the big league club begins a three-game set with the visiting New York Mets.

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Tyler Carmont

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