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Division rivals make challenge trade: Church for Francoeur

Jul 10, 2009, 6:41 PM EDT

Now this one was positive stunning. One-for-one trades involving
established players at the same positions are unusual enough. To see
division rivals making such a deal in the middle of the season when
they’re separated in the standing by a half-game makes this one of the
most unusual trades in memory.

This seems like a huge gamble for the Mets, who are banking they can
turn Francoeur around. Francoeur is the younger player by more than
four years. He’s the better athlete and he’s more durable. Plus, it’s
not like Church was having a very good season. Still, Francouer has
been a terrible player for a year and a half now and it’s not like he
was very good before that. Church had an average of 73 points of OPS
this year, 132 points last season and 31 points in 2007. His career OPS
is 790, compared to 732 for Francoeuer. Church has played in tougher
environments as well. While Turner Field has a rep as a pitcher’s park,
right-handed hitters have always done quite well there.

For the Braves, getting another left-handed hitter to go along with
Brian McCann, Nate McLouth, Garret Anderson and Casey Kotchman was
hardly ideal. Still, I imagine they jumped at this opportunity pretty
quickly. While Church’s numbers are well down this year, he’s hit
.310/.360/.424 against righties and .326/.359/.444 away from Citi
Field. The Braves can put him in a strict platoon with Matt Diaz in
right. That makes Garret Anderson an everyday player, but manager Bobby
Cox seemed to like him as one anyway. Besides, he’s equally mediocre
against lefties and righties.

Money isn’t much of a factor here. Both Francoeur and Church are in
their first years of arbitration. Francoeur makes $3.375 million, while
Church is earned $2.8 million. Francoeur, if he fails to turn it
around, looks like a strong candidate to be non-tendered at the end of
the season. Church could be as well, but probably only if he gets hurt
again. Neither is eligible for free agency until after 2011.

I see the Braves as the clear winners here. Church has the greater
offensive upside and should work out very well in a strict platoon with
Matt Diaz. Francoeur was a huge liability as a full-time player and
wasn’t even good enough against lefties to contribute as a reserve.
Still, while I dislike the deal, I do appreciate that GM Omar Minaya
was willing to try something that could go down as a spectacular
failure if the Braves go on to make the playoffs and the Mets fall
short. Most in his position wouldn’t have the guts.

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