What if you had a player who hit for average, had a great outfield arm, was a positive veteran leader in the clubhouse and was an all around good guy, even to fans from a rival team? Well, the Royals have such a player, and his name is Jeff Francoeur. But if you talk to or listen to some Royals fans, one would think Francoeur is one of the worst players on the team. But that’s what happens when you’re a player who started their career with a bang, faded away and revived their career in Kansas City. Oh, yeah, and being from the Atlanta Braves and being one of Royals General Manager Dayton Moore’s favorite players is a part of it too.
To be honest, I’m not a Jeff Francoeur apologist, but sometimes I wonder why there’s such vitriol from some fans when it comes to Francoeur. Yes, he does strike out a lot and he sometimes has the plate discipline of a little leaguer hopped up on Spree and Dr. Pepper. But Francoeur does hit well and many opposing players have been thrown out trying to test his arm.
And it’s not like Francoeur is a jerk. He’s one of the nicest players in the game. Recently, he threw a baseball with $100 wrapped around it so fans in right field at Kauffman Stadium could buy some beer and hot dogs, which is the same thing Francoeur did for some fans in Oakland. His teammates like him and the Royals promote him as one of their key players with Frenchy Corner Thursdays, where fans in a section of right field get a t-shirt, Marti Gras beads (no flashing necessary) and a discount price on a ticket. But yet, some fans cannot stand Francoeur. Why?
One reason is Francoeur was an Atlanta Brave. It’s well known General Manager Dayton Moore likes to sign or trade for current or former Braves. Which is understandable, seeing Moore spent most of his baseball career in Atlanta. But it’s almost become a running joke that any player from the Braves who’s available will end up with the Royals. So when Francoeur became a free agent, they Royals signed him. To some fans, the signing had a rinse, repeat vibe to it.
There’s the argument Francoeur strikes out a lot and doesn’t walk a lot, which is true. But Francoeur has decent power and since his time with Kansas City, he’s hitting around the .280 range and he’s hit 25 total homers, which is more than most of the current Royals players.
There’s the argument Francoeur is keeping the young players down in the minors, especially Wil Myers. Yes, Myers is playing well in AAA Omaha and his bat is close to Major League ready, but what about his defense? At least the Royals know what they have in Jeff Francoeur, especially with his defense.
This year, Francoeur started slowly, but lately he’s been heating up. Before Tuesday’s game with the Cleveland Indians, Francoeur went 16-32 with four home runs and an eight game hitting streak before going 0-4 in Tuesday’s game. His bat could cool off again, but for now, he’s playing well.
Francoeur is signed through 2013, so unless he suffers a serious injury or is traded, he’s patrolling right field for the Royals. Sure, the Royals could trade Francoeur and replace him with Myers, but what is the real trade value for Francoeur? He’s revived his career in Kansas City, but he’s not the type of player that’s going to get a front of the rotation starter. The Royals might get a mid-level pitching prospect or two for Francoeur, but that won’t help in the short term. And with the unpredictability of pitching, it may not help in the long term either.
And there’s Francoeur’s good character and leadership in the Royals clubhouse. One can debate if “veteran leadership” or “clubhouse presence” has anything to do with wins or losses. But the Royals are a young team and they need some veteran leadership. Of course there’s veterans like Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Bruce Chen, but according to Moore, Francoeur has natural leadership ability.
If Myers was ready, Francoeur provided good trade value and the Royals thought another veteran player could take over Francoeur’s leadership role, the decision to trade Francoeur would be easy. Or Francoeur could suffer an injury and force the Royals hand. But if things stay where they are now, it’s probably best for Francoeur to stay in right field and give Wil Myers more AAA seasoning. It might be be a hard pill for some fans to swallow, but for now, Jeff Francoeur is the best choice in right field.