With Jose Iglesias headed to the disabled list to begin the season, rumors have been flying left and right as to how the Tigers will fill a void at shortstop for the second time in less than a year. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners' decision to sign Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract this offseason came at an unfortunate time for second baseman Nick Franklin. This seems to be a match made in heaven for Ollie Connolly of OutsidePitchMLB, who reported that the Tigers would "make a serious run" at acquiring Franklin. Hardball Talk has bought into the rumor as well.
Franklin has appeared on top-100 prospect lists in each of the past three seasons. A bat-first prospect, Franklin hit .287/.360/.459 across all levels in five minor league seasons, including a .912 OPS in 39 games last year for Triple-A Tacoma before his call-up. Franklin got off to a hot start, hitting .267/.327/.476 in 226 plate appearances through the end of July. He struggled down the stretch, however, hitting just .172/.274/.264 in August and September. His 12% walk rate over the final two months of the season is encouraging, but the Tigers would be hoping for production similar to his first two months if a deal gets done.
Franklin only played second base while with the Mariners last season, but spent more than two-thirds of his minor league time at shortstop. Scouting reports are consistent in their criticism of his defense, but think he has the bat to make up for any deficiencies. Baseball Prospectus had the harshest critique of Franklin's abilities at short.
He is limited at shortstop, offering only modest range and an arm that earns below-average to fringe-average grades. He has decent hands and solid instincts but they are not enough to make him a palatable defender on the left side of the infield long term.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball was a bit kinder, but still had some doubts.
I felt his arm was OK for the position when I've seen him in person; at least, it was stronger than I was led to believe it was. On the other hand, scouts and qualified observers who have seen him more often than I have aren't as sanguine and generally rate his arm as merely average and better-suited for second base. As I wrote in the comment, he's a fine athlete but sometimes has some footwork problems at shortstop.
A deal with the Mariners would not be a first for Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski. The Tigers (in)famously -- depending on which side you're on -- acquired Doug Fister from the Mariners in 2011 for a package of less-than-impressive prospects. Fister had a second half for the ages as the Tigers ran away with their first AL Central championship, then provided 8.1 fWAR over the next two seasons.
In 2009, the Tigers traded left-handed pitchers Luke French and Mauricio Robles to the Mariners for Jarrod Washburn. Washburn did the opposite of Fister, posting a 7.33 ERA in eight second half starts for the Tigers. The move was one of the reasons that the Tigers were unable to clinch the division, losing to the Minnesota Twins in a one-game tiebreaker at the end of the season.
Prior to current Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik's tenure, Dombrowski traded Ramon Santiago to the Mariners for an unproductive shortstop named Carlos Guillen. Santiago later returned to the Tigers, while Guillen blossomed into a three-time All-Star that played a big role in the team's recent renaissance.
The biggest hitch in another possible trade between the two teams is a lack of appealing trade assets on the Tigers' side of the ledger. It is possible that the Mariners may be interested in someone like Robbie Ray, but anything more than that will leave the Tigers with another hole to fill before the season begins. The Mariners could use outfield help, but Daniel Fields or Steven Moya likely will not entice Zduriencik into trading a valuable asset in Franklin.