Saturday, November 15, 2014

Frenchy Goes Philly

How absolutely perfect is it that Jeff Francoeur is now a Phillie? After all, the Phillies are an organization that is not expected to finish with a winning record, yet they will pay three players at least $23M next year. This is the same organization that refused to truly entertain the idea of trading Chase Utley last year when his value was at his highest. And while Frank Wren is circling job ads in the classifieds, Ruben Amaro Jr. continues as the GM for the Phillies. And now, Frenchy. How perfect.

It wasn't that long ago that the Braves were crossing their fingers before the 2002 draft that no team would take the plunge on drafting Francoeur before the Braves' first selection, the 23rd overall. Francoeur, who was committed to Clemson where he would play football, had informed other teams that his future included either the Braves or a shot playing defensive back for Clemson. Makes you wonder what the Braves would have done had the Phillies selected Francoeur 17th instead of Cole Hamels. What if the Indians picked Francoeur 22nd, right in front of the Braves, instead of Jeremy Gutherie? Who would have been next on Roy Clark's big board? A pair of college righties like Guthrie and Joe Blanton (picked #24th)? Or maybe Matt Cain, the high school senior from Germantown, TN?

But as we know, it was the Braves that drafted Francoeur with their first choice in 2002 and invested $2.2M into Francoeur to convince him to give up the silly dream of playing for Tommy Bowden. That signing bonus remained the largest the Braves had given to an amateur until 2009, when Mike Minor signed a $2.42M signing bonus. Once he signed, Francoeur would rake at Danville and the 19 year-old was quickly pushed to Rome. The Braves, for years it seems, love to let their minor league prospects settle into being in a full season atmosphere with a full year at low-A which is what Rome is. Brian McCann joined him for a full year and later bromancers Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward spent nearly all of a full season with Rome. They would hit the fast lane after their time in Rome, but the Braves appear to want them to get their feet wet for a full season in one spot before doing too much moving.

Whereas Francoeur hammered Appalachain League pitching in 2002, his numbers were impressive, but not knock-your-socks off with Rome. He lashed .281/.325/.444 with 30 walks and 68 K's. He also grounded into 21 soul-killing double plays. Still, the argument was solid. He was young for the level. He would head to Myrtle Beach to open 2004 and got some of his mojo back, though he still couldn't be bothered to take a walk. He also took one off the cheek trying to bunt after a promotion to Greenville. In 2005, Francoeur again posted numbers similar to his previous production. .275/.322/.487. He was a top-20 prospect, though, and the Braves needed lots of help in the major leagues. So, naturally bringing up their home-grown star prospect was only reasonable. The Braves were trying to make due with several players surrounding Andruw Jones. It should be noted Andruw was having the best season of his career (.263/.347/.575, 51 HR), but he had Brian Jordan in left and Raul Mondesi in right to open the year. Clearly not the best combination of players. Ryan Langerhans began to take playing time away from Mondesi and at the end of May, Mondesi was cut in favor of Kelly Johnson, who took over as the regular in left. The Braves were in second place on July 7th, trying to catch the surprising Nationals. Atlanta was still doing well at 47-37 so it's not like Francoeur was a savior to a lost season, but the Braves needed a spart. Following a rain out, the Braves played a double header against the Cubs. After Horacio Ramirez of all people tossed a shutout in the opener, ESPN had the night cap and Francoeur joined the major league team, playing right and batting seventh. His first at-bat ended on a groundout to open the third and he stranded a pair with a strikeout in the fourth. He also K'd to end the sixth, bringing us to the 8th inning. The Cubs were up 4-3 when Marcus Giles opened things off Roberto Novoa with a triple to right. Andruw did what he did a lot of that year and hit a massive game-changing homer. Yet, what we remember was Francoeur's three-run, full-count homer off Glendon Rusch that extended the lead to 8-4. The Braves scored six runs that inning and cruised to a victory, but it was Francoeur's homer in his first game with his dad watching that was etched in the memory of Braves' fans.

I remember being on the now defunct Chopnation forums ahead of Francoeur's call-up and talking about how he hadn't shown progression as a player and was a very flawed player. I felt, in comparison to his best buddy McCann, Francoeur was not ready. He was showing no maturation. But on that day, even I was awestruck when the ball left his bat and landed beyond Turner Field's walls that insure no cheapies.

Francoeur would go on to finish third in the Rookie of the Year voting while OPSing .884 in 70 games, but he ended the year on a .212/.244/.341 slash over his final 22 games. In the brief, awful NLDS against the Astros, Francoeur had four hits in 21 PA. Yet, the expectations were crazy high for Francoeur in 2006. His first full season and he had the opportunity to take the torch away from Chipper Jones. He belted a career-best 29 HR, but he also on-based just .293. To put that in a different way, in his 686 PA, he made outs in 485 in them. That is Chris Johnson-ugly. But amazingly, many looked at his 29 HR and 103 RBI and counted the season as a good one. But 17 unintentional walks in 686 PA? Wow.

However, Francoeur bounced back in 2007 and his career was back on track. He slashed a very acceptable .293/.338/.444 with 42 walks (only 5 intentional). It remains the most walks he has ever had in a season in the major leagues, plus the best OBP. There was actually some real hope that Francoeur had turned a corner. Sure, maybe he wasn't "The Natural," but he was still productive. He even won an undeserving Gold Glove. While Francoeur would have a good year with the Royals, I still count his 2007 season as the best of his career.

Things quickly unraveled for Francoeur. He slashed .239/.294/.359 in 2008, which also included a very public demotion to Mississippi that lasted just about long enough for bloggers like me to praise the Braves for making the right move. Francoeur said he felt betrayed by the demotion. I think there were a good amount of fans like me who probably felt betrayed by his quick recall.

Francoeur would struggle again the following season and the 25 year-old would be shipped off to the Mets for Ryan Church. Francoeur would actually finish strong, putting up a good 70-game run for the second time in his career to put hope in his team. Meanwhile, Church, who was a fairly talent ballplayer in his own right, had struggled to perform after concussions had taken away his best playing days. But this move, much like yesterday's Kyle Wren trade, had little to do about an exchange of talent or improving the team and/or organization. This trade was about getting rid of Francoeur. Another demotion would likely have exploded into another bitchfest to the media and the Braves simply couldn't keep Francoeur around. It was too much.

As I said, Francoeur finished strong with the Mets who brought him back through arbitration for another season. That was more than the Braves did with Church, who was non-tendered. Francoeur would have another woeful season and was eventually sent packing to the Rangers. Amazingly, he would play in the World Series for the first time in 2010, as the Rangers lost to the Giants. He went 0 for 6 against San Francisco with a walk. The following season, Francoeur latched onto the Royals and posted his best season outside of a Braves uniform, hitting a career-high 71 extra-base hits with 22 of his 52 career steals. He actually got a two-year, $13.5M extension out of it, but never was able to reclaim his glory. The Royals would release Francoeur in July of 2013 and he got his shot with the Giants for about a month before they too cut him.

2014 started for Francoeur like it did for Aaron Harang. Trying to make the Cleveland Indians roster. Two days before Harang was cut on March 24th, Francoeur was cut and three days later, he hooked on with the Padres. He posted decent enough numbers with the Padres highest minor league squad and also appeared in ten forgetful games with San Diego, but his season was far more notable for a prank his teammates in El Paso played on him. Plus, he was used eight times as a pitcher as a mop-up reliever. That's something of note, I guess.

And now, he's a Phillie. The Face of the Baby Braves...the guy who made the cover of Sports Illustrated...the guy who had his big ESPN moment against the Cubs all those years ago...

As much as I hated Francoeur back in the day - and trust me, I railed against the guy in forums and blog posts while giving no respect - I can't help but hope he gets back to the majors with the Phillies. That's not just because it gives me something to make fun of. After all, it's the Phillies. They give you plenty so you don't need Francoeur. But he's apparently a good enough guy and it's not his fault he was overhyped to such a large degree. And I'm sure if he looked back at it, he would feel a little different about that demotion to Mississippi a long time ago. He probably wouldn't whine about it. You also have to respect a guy who has made over $25M in baseball and is still willing to keep trying. He'll be 31 by the time the 2015 season begins, but he's still on buses trying to get back to the majors and stay. I think if any of us could play baseball professionally, we would do it until the calls stopped. Good luck, Frenchy. After all, how worse can you be than Domonic Brown anyway?


  1. Disagree that last year was Chase Utley's highest value in a trade. In 2007, 2008 and 2009 he had a War of 7.8, 9.0 and 8.2. THAT was when he had the highest trade value. And I'm not sure what that has to do with Jeff Francoeur, who is an experienced body to have on hand if Phils gut the present outfield.

  2. Well, Utley wasn't going to be traded those years. Last year, the Phillies needed to deal him and they didn't even bother. That's more my argument. Utley got off to a great start last year and the Phils were and are going nowhere. Should have tried to move him.

  3. It's pretty easy to say that they should have done this or that, but you DON'T KNOW what they could have gotten. I don't remember ANY stories that any team was hot for Utley. What bloggers like you fail to realize is that it makes a LOT OF DIFFERENCE whether the owning team is selling (dumping) or the need team is pursuing. I don't agree with everything Amaro does, but trading Utley for peanuts like he did Hunter Pence (Shierholtz, Rosin, Joseph) would be a disservice to player, team, fans beyond measure.
    Furthermore, for all you boy geniuses out there, Phils problems have less to do with "older core" and more to do with pedestrian youth. Of starting 8, the three highest WAR in 2014 came from Rollins, Utley, Ruiz. Look it up. Younger players; Brown, Revere, Asche were much lower, and of course the negative WAR from Brown and Howard.
    2015 is looking like a mess, having to deal with end of big contracts for Cliff. Lee, Papelbon, and Howard. If Amaro plays his cards right, he could have a significantly lower payroll and an upcoming team going into 2016.
    Regardless of the noise folks like you make, whatever the haul for Utley might be, it's not going to be the difference between contending and running in place. Amaro SHOULD NOT PANIC, and fire-sale the team except for Howard, possibly Dom Brown.

    Finally, Phils Owe Lee and Papelbon 38 million in 2015, who have options for 2016 for ANOTHER 40.5 million. That's nearly 80 MILLION for a 37 year old ace with arm problems, and a closer they don't need. Amaro MUST deal with this and Howard contract in 2015. Trading Utley is re-arranging deck chairs on the titanic.

  4. Everyone says Phils older core is root of problem, but aside from Ryan Howard, that is not the reality of the data;
    ESPN Stats used. Some players may have been omitted, I found Byrd mysteriously not listed among neither RF or OF, but conclusion is the same.

    Phillies 2014 WAR
    2. C Ruiz 3.2 5 Higher than Yadier Molina (7th)
    3. 1B Howard -1.1 33 Howard, Trumbo, Jones tied last
    4. 2B Utley 3.6 2 Only Just Turner higher(4.3)
    5. 3B Asche 0.6 13 Arbitration eligible 2017
    6. SS Rollins 3.9 4 Behind Peralta, Tulowitzki, Uribe
    7. LF Brown -1.4 22 Listed in LF, still abominable
    8. CF Revere 0.6 10
    9. RF Byrd 2.6 7 Not listed for whatever reason

  5. The reason for that mess in 2015 you elude to comes down to the general manager's decision-making. Furthermore, the reason for that "pedestrian youth" also falls on the general manager. A way to help with that situation would be to sell off older talent and rebuild rather than buy into more older talent, as they did last offseason with Ruiz and Byrd. When we say the older core is the problem, it's not to say that all of them aren't productive. It's to say that they are getting older, will likely not play better, and instead are more likely to play worse.

    This is pretty simple and comparable to the Braves, actually. They have a few decent prospects in their system, but depth issues as well and could use more. Sitting and trying to trade only the "awful deals" won't bring in any talent. You need to trade real players to get real talent. But I'm glad Amaro and the Phillies fans appear happy to hold onto the belief that the team doesn't need to concern themselves with that. After all, the more they sink, the better chance the Braves have of competing sooner rather than later.

  6. No argument about GM's responsibility. And there are plenty of things to criticize RAJ about; trade values and lack of impact players from the farm, but the notion of "sell off older talent and rebuild" while sounding splendid in theory, in practice there wasn’t nearly the opportunity that is suggested.
    Cases in point;
    Rollins: Phils re-signed him Dec 2011 after 102 win season with rotation of lights-out-Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt, Worley. Highest ERA Oswalt’s 3.69 (Halladay would be injured in 2012 and never be the same pitcher). But offseason prior, options were let Rollins walk or resign him. He already acquired 10/5 rights in 2010 and steadfast would veto trade. Sign Reyes in 2011 instead of Rollins? Would Phils be better off now owing Reyes $22M in 2015, 2016, and 2017?
    Howard: He tore his Achilles tendon on the last play of 2011 playoff run. They were not going to trade him before that and could not after.
    Chase Utley: he played 115 games in 2010, 103 in 2011, and 83 in 2012, and every said he was done. Signed through 2013 at $15M per, Phils weren’t going to get much for him.
    Carlos Ruiz: Had a career year in 2012 when the whole team was on the DL then got suspended 25 games before the winter meetings for drug violations. Came back and promptly went on DL for hammy, then again for concussion.
    Cliff Lee – was subject of trade rumors in 2012 and 2013, but contract though to be issue, and Phils were supposed to be happy with minor prospects and eat some money. Never Happened.
    Jim Thome – June 2012 traded to Orioles for C Gabriel Lino and P Kyle Simon (both still in Phils farm system, and still could contribute ML
    Hunter Pence – July 2012 traded to SFG for Schierholtz, Rosin, and Joseph. Schierholtz walked as FA after 2012 season. Rosin back in farm after 2014 Rule 5 tour of NYM, LAD, and TEX. Joseph, battling injuries to stay as prospect.
    Shane Victorino – July 2012 traded to LAD for Lindblom, Ethan Martin. Lindblom traded to TEX for Michael Young. Martin still in Phils system, still projects to ML.
    Joe Blanton - August 2012 to LAD for Ryan O’Sullivan- still in Phils farm system
    Vance Worley – December 2012 traded to MIN with Trevor May for Ben Revere.
    Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco – left as FA 2012, each played in Mia 1 more season 2013
    Michael Young – August 2013 traded to LAD for rob Rasmussen December 3, 2013:
    Erik Kratz – December 2013 traded to TOR with Rob Rasmessen for Brad Lincoln.
    This basically leaves Hamels and Kendricks as trade considerations; Kendricks was cheap and durable, Hamels arguably has more trade value now.