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Impact of potential Wander Franco return for Rays

We go over the fantasy baseball, betting and MLB playoff implications of the shortstop’s return to the Rays’ lineup.

Wander Franco #5 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws during the second inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox on July 6, 2022 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

At one point last month, the Tampa Bay Rays had as many 17 players on the injured list. Shortstop Wander Franco was one of those walking wounded after he broke the hamate bone in his right hand on July 9. He underwent surgery a few days later and was given a recovery timetable of 5-to-8 weeks. As we approach the back end of that timetable, let’s discuss what Franco’s return means from a betting, fantasy and real-world MLB standpoint.

Wander Franco return date

Rays betting impact

The Rays, 13-11 since July 9, are basically in the same position they were when Franco sustained his injury. That’s a credit to them considering how their roster has been absolutely ravaged by different bumps and bruises. But it also reflects how little impact Franco should have on their betting lines. Listed by DraftKings Nation at -155 to make the playoffs, the Rays, currently holding onto the second AL Wild Card, have the Mariners, Orioles, Guardians and White Sox all within three games of them.

The Rays can afford to fall behind one of those teams, but the Guardians have a lot of pitching depth, and the White Sox have more overall talent. Even with Wander possibly returning by the start of September, the value isn’t there to make betting on the Rays a tantalizing proposition. And Franco hasn’t done enough to prove that he’d make a big difference in their lineup. The Rays’ team OPS has actually gone up since he hit the IL.

Fantasy baseball impact

Hopes were high for the phenom entering this year. A top-50 fantasy pick in the preseason, Franco has been a big letdown at the plate. He is hitting more balls on the ground than last year. His chase rate is up. His barrel rate is down. His average exit velocity and hard-hit rates are about the same from 2021 — meaning they are still below average. Franco makes a lot of contact and will steal a bag every now and then. But for him to reach his ceiling, something needs to change; a sub-.400 slugging percentage is not going to cut it. Maybe some of that was due to his quad strain in May, but he was slugging a rather pedestrian .421 prior to that point. There is still plenty of time for the 21-year-old to fulfill all of his amazing potential. It’s just not going to happen this year.

MLB playoff race impact

Having Franco in the lineup is better than what the Rays have now at shortstop; Taylor Walls is hitting .171 with an abysmal .545 OPS. Franco would obviously help Tampa Bay in a crowded group of Wild Card contenders. But if the past few weeks are any indication, he is not the end-all, be-all for why the Rays will make the playoffs. They would probably be helped to a greater extent if Shane Baz and/or Tyler Glasnow can get on a mound before the end of September.