There is a term on Wall Street called witching hour. This is the one-hour period just before the market closes on the third Friday of the month. What happens on the third Friday of the month? This is the period when options and futures on stock indexes expire. Basically, it’s the last call for bets before fortunes are made and lost. Generally, this is when the market is more volatile because everybody knows they are moments away from a major change of fortune. At this time, any new development of information can drastically sway things. I liken this to the period just before a prospect is about to be called up. We are in Wander Franco’s witching hour. We don’t know exactly when he’s going to get called up, but we know it will likely be during the 2021 season. We also know that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect him not to live up to the hype right away—you know, being a teenager and all. Still, a slump to start his MLB career would drastically affect his value in dynasty leagues. That is the nature of being so highly hyped, justified or not.
And just how hyped is he?
The consensus No. 1 prospect for both 2020 and 2021, Franco is the first prospect to receive a full 80-grade overall prospect from Fangraphs since the site started grading prospects. This is for good reason. Franco has played just 158 games, all of them lower than Double-A, but has posted the following line all before turning 19:
Also, Franco is athletic enough to field just about any position on the diamond, and his plate prowess would be elite anywhere.
How do we know he’ll be that good at the plate? We don’t. If we did, there wouldn’t be fluctuations in his market, and we’d know exactly what he—and every baseball prospect for that matter—would be worth… and baseball wouldn’t be any fun. He is the ultimate five-tool prospect. Think Francisco Lindor’s athleticism, but with Joey Votto’s approach. Who wouldn’t want that on their team? Who believes that’s actually possible?
As I did a week ago with Mike Trout, I am going to look at Franco’s trade market because 2021 is such a pivotal year for the youngster. He is at the point where the theoretical meets the empirical—good or bad. Dynasty owners know this, and some are panicking. They are panicking because they think his value could be at its height, meaning he’ll bust. They are also panicking because they think he really is an MVP-in-waiting, and this will be the least he’s worth in the next 10 years. Chances are, if you are trading away Franco or trading for Franco, you are in one of these two camps. There is no room for nuance when you’re so close to a payday.
As I did with the Trout article, I want to point out that this isn’t a scientific study. I will not quantify how much you should either offer for Franco in a dynasty league if you don’t own him or accept a trade for Franco in a dynasty league if you do. Sure, I will make tertiary points that could affect Franco’s worth in the future or forecast what Franco’s career might look like as he is about to play against the best players in the world. Mostly, this article is the result of asking everyone who I have ever played in a dynasty league with, who I know who plays dynasty leagues, or who has asked me a question about their dynasty league if Franco has recently been traded in their league, and for how much. I didn’t ask anyone what they would theoretically accept or offer in a Franco deal because I’m not interested in dream scenarios. I want to know what the price tag for Franco has actually been. That is what we will be exploring today. But first:
What to Expect From Premier Rookies
Rookie performance is a fickle thing. I don’t think exploring rookies as a whole would be relevant to this discussion. Even if you’re not a Franco-file, you will admit that he is better than the average rookie-eligible player. If we were looking at the market for multiple rookies, especially of different talent levels, we could have that conversation, although I also think it wouldn’t be very productive. Many times how an organization chooses to bring prospects up directly affects their production. Speaking about specific organizations’ rookie histories might be more productive.
For Franco, what we should be looking at are top prospects and top rookies for what to expect. That is what we are talking about. Despite his young age, if Franco doesn’t win rookie of the year (in 2021 or 2022), it will be a disappointment. A prospect can’t be this hyped for this long and not be the presumptive top rookie in whatever year they come up. So the first thing to do is look at how top prospects have fared recently. Here is a history of the top prospects, as ranked by MLB.com, Baseball America, and Fangraphs at the beginning of each season:
|MLB Pipeline||Baseball America||Fangraphs|
|2021||Wander Franco||Wander Franco||Wander Franco|
|2020||Wander Franco||Wander Franco||Wander Franco|
|2019||Wander Franco||Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.||Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.|
|2018||Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.||Ronald Acuna, Jr.||Shohei Ohtani|
|2017||Shohei Ohtani||Andrew Benintendi||Yoan Moncada|
|2016||Yoan Moncada||Corey Seager||Byron Buxton|
|2015||Byron Buxton||Kris Bryant||Kris Bryant|
|2014||Byron Buxton||Byron Buxton||Byron Buxton|
|2013||Byron Buxton||Jurickson Profar||Jurickson Profar|
|2012||Jurickson Profar||Bryce Harper||Mike Moore|
|2011||Mike Trout||Bryce Harper||Mike Trout|
|2010||Jason Heyward||Jason Heyward||Jason Heyward|
|2009||David Price||Matt Wieters|
|2008||Jay Bruce||Jay Bruce|
|2007||Delmon Young||Daisuke Matsuzaka|
|2006||Delmon Young||Delmon Young|
|2005||Delmon Young||Joe Mauer|
|2004||Joe Mauer||Joe Mauer|
As you can see, getting a consensus on the top prospect doesn’t happen often. In fact, only six have been in 18 years — Franco (2020, 2021), Byron Buxton (2014), Jason Heyward (2010), Jay Bruce (2008), Delmon Young (2006), and Joe Mauer (2004). Other than Mauer, that list is not a list with a great track record. In fact, of the 20 total names that are on this list, just six won Rookie of the Year, and none of those were the six consensus top picks just mentioned.
So this begs the question: Is winning Rookie of the Year that important?
It is and it isn’t. It goes without saying that winning the award is a sign of a successful first season. It doesn’t mean you were the best rookie, however. If we were just going by WAR, the last 42 ROY the year winners, 22 of them didn’t even lead their league in rookie WAR, including all four winners between 2021 and 2020. That doesn’t mean the winners did not have good seasons. In fact, every non-reliever ROY winner produced at a 3.0 WAR pace since Chris Coghlan in 2009. In fact, Coghlan, Ryan Braun (2007), Jason Bay (2004), and Angel Berroa (2003) are the only ROY winners to not play at a 3.0 WAR pace since 2000. That 3.0 mark has been important. Thirty-two different players have won an MVP trophy since 2000. Only six (Freddie Freeman, Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, Justin Morneau, Miguel Tejada) failed to earn enough WAR in their rookie year that by the end of a 162-game season, they would reach 3.0.
Is Franco capable of a 3.0 WAR as a rookie?
If any prospect can maintain that 3.0 WAR pace from a talent standpoint in 2021, it’s Franco. I might be in the minority in this opinion. After all, both ZIPs and STEAMER projections predict roughly 100 games of replacement-level production from the uber-talented infielder. I get it. He’s not even 20, but the hit tool is special. He has the best hit tool in the minor leagues and the strike zone recognition to match. Having more walks than strikeouts in Rookie-A, Single-A, or High-A is not unusual. It is unusual for a teenager to continually post those numbers. In fact, at each level, Franco not only had more walks than strikeouts but also had more extra-base hits than strikeouts, which is something no one does, not even the best prospects:
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||185||.306||.403||.475||0.878||110||98||69|
There are a couple of takeaways based on the numbers above: Juan Soto is really good, and always has been. Another is that while it seems like Franco is inexperienced, he played just as many games as all four of these now MLB players before going to Double-A, matching each of them in statistics and besting them in others. Finally, for those who might say Franco isn’t going to have as much power as those on the rest of the list based on his size: look at the power numbers.
He has the most XBH out of any of them. True, Soto played fewer games and would catch up at the rate he was going, but something that stands out is in more than 50 extra games, Franco struck out less than Soto, who is thought to have maybe the best approach in all of baseball at this point.
What’s more: this chart is based on the games up to High-A. What is the average # of games these other three played above High-A? Seventy. Roughly a half of a season. Soto and Trout were brought up the season after they graduated from High-A. In their rookie seasons, they produced at a pace to surpass 3.0 WAR. Even Guerrero would have met that pace if his defense wasn’t so bad.
Should we expect this from Franco? I am. He is currently at the skill level and age that these other players were when making their debuts. I’m unsure how much playing a year at the alternate site helped or hindered Franco’s development. I’m more on the side that it helped. For prospects who were already in Double-A and Triple-A before 2020, I’m not as sure. Franco, on the other hand, hadn’t yet seen breaking stuff from major league ready pitchers until the alternate site—then he got a full year of it.
So … What is Wander’s value?
Like I said with Trout, I don’t know. But that’s not what we’re here for. The market for Franco is whatever someone is willing to pay in your league. Or, just as important, what someone is willing to give him up for. It also depends on what kind of league you are in. I can’t give you a definitive answer. What I can do, however, is show you some of the transactions he has been involved in and offer my opinion. So let’s do that!
Wow. Let’s get started with a good one right off the bat. This is, obviously, the type of deal you’d expect to see. I’d say this deal is pretty fair. It’s possible that Betts defies the premature decline that affects many shorter players. After all, Betts is an incredible athlete. He’s probably one of the better athletes ever to play the game. Usually, it’s not that skills get worse on their own; however, it’s because of injuries causing skills to get worse. Just look at other shorter players to see this: Dustin Pedroia, Tim Lincecum, Jose Altuve, Jose Reyes, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, etc. All of these guys defied poor expectations related to their height, but they also saw significant reduction in production before turning 30. Not to say that they weren’t any good after that, but they were clearly not the same players they were before. It’s almost as if their primes were two years earlier than most players. I’m not saying that Team A is thinking that way about Betts, but it is something to keep in mind as he turns 29 at the end of the season. That said, he is one of the best fantasy players in the league at the moment and could be for the next couple years. If that is the case, this is still a good trade. Even if Betts is very good until he’s 33, that means Franco will be 24 and still a year or so away from his prime. Also, this is buying low on Adell. The market for Adell is sagging right now for some reason. I don’t get it. It seemed obvious he wasn’t going to come in and dominate MLB pitching. Give the kid some time!
This trade happened in 2020, just before Mize’s debut. In my opinion, this is light for the top prospect in the game. I’m not sure it will look better in a year either because Mize might be great, but Franco will be in the league too. The only way it does is if Franco struggles significantly. I’d want another very good prospect in return for Franco, like an Andrew Vaughn or a Grayson Rodriguez.
If I saw this trade in any of my leagues, I’d start to hyperventilate. I wonder how this trade evolved. So many big names. So much production for so much potential. All-in-all, I think Team B gets the slight upper hand on this one, only because I am a huge Bellinger fan and think he’s likely to be more like his MVP self than the other player we’ve seen. This trade happened a year ago, so Arenado was still on the Rockies and Giolito was in the middle of dominating major leaguers. As far as dynasty pithers are concerned, Giolito is right up there with Walker Buehler and Shane Bieber for me. That said, if I was Team A and I was looking to rebuild, this is an impressive haul. I’m not a huge Marquez fan, so I’d try for a different pitching prospect, but if the Team B manager said take it or leave it, I’d probably take it.
I wrote about this deal in the Trout piece. This is the kind of trade I thought I would see more of, to be honest. A Franco for Trout swap seems reasonable on its face. Franco is the most anticipated and highly rated prospect since Bryce Harper. Some say he’s the most highly rated prospect in the last 30 years. Along with Franco, Team B gets three lottery tickets. Patiño had mixed results in the majors, Mauricio’s stock has been tripped up, and nobody knows what to think of Syndergaard anymore due to his inability to adapt and injuries. If I were Team B in this scenario, I’d be pretty happy.
This trade happened back in 2019, before Lowe became an all-star and Harper saw a bit of a resurgence. The owner says he kind of regrets doing this deal now, two years later. I think this is a deal that ends up looking good in the end. I’m not sure what Davis is doing in this deal. I’d rather have a pick or a prospect. I mean, I know Davis really fell off after 2019, but he was also 31 then. If I’m Team A, I don’t want any part of this deal to be over 30 years old. The owner might have thought he could flip Davis midseason to a team that needs power. I get it. I just personally wouldn’t want to play with that fire.
In August of 2020, this was a push for Team B to win right now and in the near future. I think it’s an overpay. Considering Bregman’s recent history of not being as good since getting caught cheating with the rest of the Astros, there are still questions about what he really is. He could easily return to form in 2021 and then this trade would look pretty close. Basically, Bregman is what you hope Franco will be, but with speed. Pre 2020, Bregman had that special approach where it’s almost like he knew what pitch was coming… All joking aside, Carroll is also a significant piece in this. From what I’ve read and heard from evaluators is he’s a slam dunk, frontline CF prospect. There won’t be a ton of power, but he’ll be the kind of high-end OBP/SB combo centerfielder that everyone wishes they had.
Done exactly one year ago, I can see the allure for this. I’m not sure if I would do this if I had Franco. Not because it isn’t reasonable, but because if you have the undisputed No. 1 prospect in all of baseball for two years running, the offer would have to blow me away. Getting probably the 1st or 2nd best 2B and 8th-10th best 3B in a dynasty league for him wouldn’t be enough. If Albies had a better average or more SB, then maybe. I think what everyone projects from Franco is that he’s a better version of Albies—everywhere. Maybe the same amount of power. For me, Chapman isn’t enough to overlook that or outweigh that possibility. And Musgrove and Puk are non-factors to me. I’m lower on Puk than most. And for a trade with Franco, throw-ins should be picks or prospects you like.
If I was Team A, I’d be really happy with this. A 2019 trade, this was back when Franco and Adell were both top 5 prospects and Buehler looked like he was on the verge of seriously contending for the NL Cy Young. Still, pitching is more volatile than hitting, and I’d rather have the two very highly-rated prospects, either of whom could wind up being more valuable than Buehler by 2022. And I do think Adell will become a very good OF. Probably an OF2.
This trade happened around Christmas, and it’s explosive. Any team that gets Betts and deGrom in a deal has to be contending for a title. Those two alone are enough to elevate a roster into another level. I’d be happy with either side of this deal, to be honest. What I like about what Team A gets is the levels of prospects. They are all at slightly different proximities to the playoffs. Carlson had some success at the end of last year in the majors, Franco is knocking on the door, Rodriguez is 12-18 months away and Luciano is probably 24 months away. This is exactly the kind of deal that will make teams who want to win now angry in your league, crying unfair, but in 2 years they won’t apologize even though they know they were wrong.
I saved the most interesting trade for last. This happened a year ago, and it was during the initial league draft!
I’ve done a number of initial dynasty league drafts and have never been able to convince another team to move up or back. For some reason they just tighten their grips on their picks, as if they know exactly who they will get for them. I understand, though, too. If it’s a live draft, it’s intense. A decision you make in the moment could seriously affect your roster for years. Like this one will. What happened here is these two teams swapped picks, and all it cost Team A is a closer: Ken Giles. Team A only moved up six picks, but I’d pay that price to be able to have Soto and Franco, which is what Team A ended up with from rounds 1 and 2. I mean, in any leagues where I have Franco, it would take a significant package with Rendon to get him. If Franco was still on the table in the 2nd round and it was my pick, and someone asked to swap picks, I’d ask for their fifth-round pick on top of the swap. Maybe their 17th-round pick too. I wouldn’t think of this in terms of how little Team A is moving up. I’d think of it as how important it is that he gets that player. And if I simply picked Franco, what it would take for someone to trade him from me.
As you can tell, Franco is getting thrown around in leagues right now. The market is probably as crazy as it’s ever been for the Tampa Bay teenager. I had to cap the number of trades I was going to talk about because I have a list next to me of more than twice as many as I just put up. My conclusion here is you should treat Franco as if he’s already a known quantity in trade negotiations. His minor league numbers are associated with some of the best players in the majors. And if someone doesn’t agree, you should be trying to get him from that person.
Here’s the situation. Franco could come up and struggle. He could have real power issues. There is talk of a need to adjust his launch angle. If that happens, you might be able to buy low on him. But if he comes up and is any good at all, you’ll never get him. So this is likely going to be your last chance. Because if Franco is good right away, there would be no reason for anyone to trade him. He plays a premium position, so if you’re winning now he can probably still help you. Conversely, if you are rebuilding, he’s exactly what you want to build around.
Photos by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)