TheRoyals’ signing of Jeff Francoeur - so long predicted and, relatively speaking, so long in coming - had become such a long running source of sarcasm and humor on the Internet that it is something of a relief just to have it over with. Something of a relief, mind you.
There has been and will be (justifiably too) a lot of negativity written in this regard. It is, after all, another ex-Brave, another big swing and big miss type of guy, another low on-base percentage hitter, another contract with a mutual option at the end (the point of which remains lost on me after all these years). Given that, I have let this deal simmer in mind some in an attempt to find the positive side of all this.
First and foremost, the biggest upside to the Francoeur signing is currently being trumpeted as his very positive clubhouse presence. The deeper you get toward the statistical end of the baseball spectrum, the more we have a tendency to discount and make fun of these traits. A lot of that stems from the fact that the Royals have spent the better part of a decade telling us that classic bench players like Willie Bloomquist and Ross Gload are playing everyday because of their grit and intensity. It doesn’t help that Kansas City also plays a team 19 times per year that is touted by the organization’s own announcers as ‘playing the game the right way’. Listen, it is real damn easy to ‘play the game the right way’ when Joe Mauer bats third and Justin Morneau bats fourth!
All that aside, Francoeur’s ‘sixth tool’ (I stole that from Greg Schaum, by the way) should not be discounted. The Royals spent several years not very long ago without any real veteran leadership and it showed. Opposing scouts, even umpires, commented on the teams’ lack of professionalism. One scout was roughly quoted as saying ‘just watching them come out to warm up makes me mad.’
Prior to that time, the Royals’ unchallenged clubhouse leader was Mike Sweeney. Mike is a tremendous person with a tremendous outlook on life, but I am not sure your team leader should really be a guy who realizes that there are a multitude of things in life more important than winning baseball games. Truthfully, guys with Mike’s outlook and way of life get too often labeled as soft and the like, but about ten too many ‘that’s baseball’ and ‘you just have to try to do better tomorrow’ after bad losses made me sour on Sweeney’s baseball leadership abilities. As an aside, where was the Mike Sweeney who challenged anyone who claimed to see Ken Griffey Jr. sleeping during a game to ‘fight him’ when the Royals really could have used something like that in say…May 2004? But I digress…
It’s nice that Francoeur is a solid clubhouse guy and teammate, just as it was that Jason Kendall, Scott Podsednik and Mike Jacobs were as well. The problem is, as Terry Pendleton once said, ‘it’s tough to be a leader when you are hitting .213.’ Now, short of Billy Butler and maybe Mike Aviles, it is possible that Francoeur might be hitting about as well as anyone else in the lineup, so…..
Truth is, signing Francoeur for $2.5 million this year is not the end of the world. While he might be better served as a platoon partner, the Royals would be silly to platoon Alex Gordon or Kila Ka’aihue at this point in their careers. I think Mitch Maier is a good guy, but if Kansas City wants to play Francoeur everyday in right at the expense of Mitch I won’t lose any sleep at night. Although I would yield to the guys over at Royals Review who I think would advocate that Maier is the team’s best option in CENTER currently on the roster, but I digress once more…
Nor will I agonize of Francouer blocking David Lough. It seemed unlikely that the club was going to give Lough a real shot in spring training as it was and, frankly, Lough might need and won’t be harmed by spending another half season in AAA. After all, if you are ‘blocked’ by an Francoeur, Gordon, Maier, Blanco and Dyson for more than half a season then….
In the end, given the modest contract, I am not as angst ridden by the signing of Francoeur as I thought I would be. There is a chance that Jeff is due for some ‘luck’ in the form of BABIP. In 2005 and 2007, he posted/received a BABIP of .337 and posted a WAR (via Baseball Reference) of 2.5 in his rookie year and 2.1 two years later. If Franceour’s BABIP is around .270, as it has been in two of the last three seasons, then you have a replacement level player.
For now, this deal is mostly harmless. At least until the mutual options are picked up for 2012 because ‘Wil Myers needs more seasoning’.