The New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays have shown interest in Mariners' middle infielder Nick Franklin, according to ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin, who has confirmed interest from both clubs. Rubin adds that the Mets and Mariners had priorly discussed a deal during December's Winter Meetings, and talks are expected to resume in the coming weeks. The Rays had also apparently been close to a deal only to see it fall apart following Jeremy Hellickson's recent injury.
Franklin, nearly 23, was once considered among the top prospects in the game, clocking in on Baseball America's top 100 list in both 2011 and 2013, while also making Keith Law's rankings in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Regarded as a bat-first middle infield prospect, many scouts saw him eventually moving off of shortstop to second base, a transition which he fully committed to in 2013.
Last season, Franklin made his big league debut for the Mariners, displaying mediocre defense at the keystone with a strong approach at the plate. While he had a decent amount of trouble making contact last year, his pop clearly showed, as he hit 33 extra base hits in just 102 games. Despite a .225 average (he hit .225/.303/.382 overall), his 96 OPS+ was only slightly below league-aveage, and his 2.3 WAR was indicative of an above-average big leaguer despite not playing a full season.
The Mariners appear to have deemed Nick Franklin as an expendable asset since they already have a slight glut up the middle with Robinson Cano (who displaced Franklin) and Brad Miller expected to be the starters at second and short, respectively, and the duo of Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager having each played the middle infield in the past. Considering that Franklin's value would be wasted sitting on the bench, the Mariners would probably be best off dealing him for a young arm to answer the question marks in their rotation behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
The Mets, meanwhile, could surely use Franklin, who would be a significant upgrade over Ruben Tejada, while also saving the team both money and a draft pick from a potential Stephen Drew signing. Rubin mentions pitching prospect Rafael Montero as a possible return for Franklin. Montero, who was recently ranked as the 68th best prospect in the game by BA, possesses mid-rotation upside and appears to be ready fro the majors. The Mets have the ability to part with one of their young pitchers due to a plethora of cost-controlled arms.
Unlike the Mets, the Rays appear to be a little more strapped when it comes to giving away pitching. Rubin mentions Hellickson's injury as what broke off talks earlier, and that makes sense considering dealing away one of their starters such as Jake Odorizzi or David Price would have meant a not-fully developed prospect such as Alex Colome or Mike Montgomery starting the season in the rotation. The Rays did go out and address that depth issue by trading for Nate Karns, but the club would certainly prefer to be prepared for a potential Hellickson setback or injury to another starter.
The Rays don't have an absolute need for a middle infielder with Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar locked up for the next two seasons, but it's possible that they see an opportunity to grab a future lineup piece at a discounted price. Franklin would also give the Rays the flexibility to plug either him or Zobrist into a super-utility role of sorts.