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A Requiem for Jeff Francoeur

Jul 1, 2013, 11:37 AM EDT

Kansas City Royals Photo Day Getty Images

Joe Posnanski looks back at the illustrious career of the recently-DFA’d Jeff Francoeur and pretty much groks the essence:

Jeff Francoeur is one of the greatest guys in baseball. Everybody thinks so. He’s always smiling. He’s always friendly. On the field, he always tries. Lord, he tries. Runs out those grounders. Throws home with gusto. Off the field he’s always doing something cool like signing an autograph or chatting up a kid or appearing at a charity event or helping a teammate or talking to a young reporter who was nervously looking for someone to talk with. When you’re a kid, you might imagine how you would act as a big league ballplayer — and you would probably be imagining the life of Jeff Francoeur.

Well, you probably would imagine yourself a better hitter — which is the real life part of the story.

There’s a part of the Francoeur mythos that goes “the media loved him so they talked him up big all the time and overlooked his weaknesses.” And there is a lot of truth to that. But the media didn’t sign him to contracts, trade for him or give him far more plate appearances than he deserved over the years. That was on the Braves, Mets, Rangers and Royals. Certainly professional teams aren’t dazzled by a great personality and thus fooled into poor baseball decisions, are they?

I don’t think so. Rather, I think teams are victims of a different kind of delusion. The delusion of a breakout performance like Francoeur had as soon as he was called up in 2005.

Francoeur has stunk far more than he’s prospered, and the reason he’s been allowed to do so is because — at least in my opinion — good first impressions outweigh the bulk of one’s performance as far as baseball evaluators are concerned. Some of them — at least the ones who pulled the trigger on Francoeur — are prejudiced to assume that only great players can break out big, so Francoeur must be a great player struggling rather than a poor hitter who just lucked into some occasional greatness.

If a player with Francoeur’s same skills, such as they are, stumbled poorly for about 3,500 plate appearances to start his career he’d never get a chance to shine in those 1,000 plate appearances in which Francoeur did. Heck, he’d not even get the 3,500. But ooh, that chance of promise! It’s like plunking money into a slot machine you just saw pay off. That’s basically what GMs and managers have done with Francoeur since 2005.

But, contrary to my headline, I doubt it’s actually time for a requiem. Someone is gonna, once again, look back at how he did for a brief spell eight years ago and the half-season blips he’s had on occasion, assume that that — as opposed to the huge number of plate appearances in which he has been terrible — is the “real Jeff Francoeur” and sign or trade for him within the next week. You just know it.

  1. skids003 - Jul 1, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    Didn’t I just read an article about them breaking athletes down? Hang in there, Jeff, a great guy. He’ll land on his feet at whatever he decides to do.

  2. geoknows - Jul 1, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    He actually had more than a half-season blip in 2011, when he was pretty decent for an entire year and posted a 2.6 WAR. That’s what got the Royals to resign him, after all.

  3. specialkindofstupid - Jul 1, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    If memory serves, shortly after their breakouts the Braves were negotiating with both Franceour and Brian McCann on long-term deals. Franceour wanted more money; McCann signed on the dotted line.

    The word “fortuitous” just doesn’t seem to cover it.

  4. Old Gator - Jul 1, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    I love Posnanski’s clever equation of the career of Jeff Francoeur with Hemingway’s Jake Barnes. Yes, it’s pretty to think so, Jake.

    Ah! Fido heard me typing “Hemingway”….thanks Joe, I’ve been trying to cheer him up since yesterday. And yes, Jeff – the sun also rises.

  5. frank35sox - Jul 1, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Yes, skids; I believe you’re right. Craig uses big words though, so conventional rules of hypocrisy don’t apply to him.

    • Old Gator - Jul 1, 2013 at 12:57 PM

      Big words only seem big to people with minds too small to accommodate them comfortably. To everyone else, a big word and a small word are like a good flan and a bad flan.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 1, 2013 at 1:27 PM

      Post 1: excessive hype when a player is not up to that hype is problematic and the actual realistic assessment which comes later seems like hate to those who bought the hype.

      Post 2: a player was excessively hyped, wasn’t up to it. Now talking realistically about that player in a way that someone is taking as hate.

      Yes, clearly I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth.

  6. neoshweaty - Jul 1, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Joe sums it up well. How could you not want someone who seems like a legitimately nice person who enjoys what he does every day and shows that to the fans whenever he can? It’s difficult to not love that kind of personality. I have a feeling he’ll be a great play by play guy when he ends his career. He clearly has the personality for that.

    I was even fooled for a bit when he joined the mets (traded for Ryan Church if I remember correctly). He just seems like he should do well but doesn’t. Hardest thing in sports is hitting a round ball with a round bat enough times to only fail every 6 of 10 times.

  7. xmatt0926x - Jul 1, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    I hope Franceour never leaves the baseball scene. How else will we get to enjoy Craigs fanatical fascination with everything Frenchy does and says while on the same day seemingly not understanding why other fans pay way too much attention to a guy like Jimmy Rollins and his comments.

    It’s almost as if as people and fans, WE ALL succumb to human nature here and there and find ourselves fascinated by silly and meaningless things in life, especially when it comes to sports. Hmm….

    • Reflex - Jul 1, 2013 at 1:50 PM

      Sooo….your hoping the Phils sign him to replace Delmon..?

  8. sleepyirv - Jul 1, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    Of course someone else will give him a chance. He has a couple good runs on the Major League level. He’s even had a decent season. That’s a very rare thing. It doesn’t hurt that Franceour also has a great attitude.

    The trick is to properly value it. No multi-million dollar contracts, no extended time in the majors, no unnecessary benching of someone who is probably better. Just plop him in Triple-A if you are very weak in corner outfielders.

  9. chip56 - Jul 1, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    It makes sense for the Royals to cut Frenchy and free up the spot for a prospect to play since that team’s not going anywhere anyway. I could see him catching on with the Pirates who need corner outfielders, especially from the right side, and could use someone who has playoff experience as they try to make this solid first half hold up.

    The Yankees could look at him as a possible upgrade from Vernon Wells.

    The Mets don’t have any outfielders…

    All in all I think that the SABR whipping boy will be fine.

  10. inthecards22 - Jul 1, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    I was just comparing Frenchy’s career stats to those of Chris Davis…very successful rookie half-season, followed by a few low obp/high strikeout and below league average seasons. Baltimore is being celebrated now for Davis’ breakout, but the Royals maligned for signing Frenchy. And Francoeur did have some defensive value at one point…hindsight makes it pretty simple.

  11. albertmn - Jul 1, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    Is this the same reason teams give players like Dontrelle Willis chance after chance? Not to rip on Willis specifically, but he is the biggest example that comes to mind. In his five full seasons, he had one very good year, one good year, two okay years, and a kind of crappy year. For the next four seasons, three teams (DET, ARI, CIN) kept trying to trot him out there assuming they were the team that could fix him.

    A couple of flashes of greatness will earn you more money than being a consistent borderline starting player/bench guy (Punto comes to mind).

  12. Last Road Reviews - Jul 1, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    I like the guy a lot. One of the good guys in the game. I enjoyed his time on the Mets though towards the end as much as I liked him I felt it was time to move on. Outside of his early years he hasn’t been very good though had a nice run with the Mets.

    But he still has value as a 4th OF. At some point I think someone picks him up

  13. pdowdy83 - Jul 1, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    The real issue is teams usage of Francoeur. If someone would simply just use him against lefties he can still provide good value. His career slash against lefties is .287/.338/.471. He hits a homer every 26.5 at bats against lefties vs every 35.5 at bats against righties. He plays decent defense and still has a cannon. The guy had 19 assists last year (why do people still run on him?). I know a lot of that slash line goes back to pre 2012 but if Delmon Young can maintain an every day job and teams think Yuniesky Betancourt is worth a spot on a roster it is hard to imagine Francoeur won’t be on a team again very soon. The other crazy thing about him is he seems like he should be pushing 35 but he hasn’t even turned 30 yet.

    Can someone please pick up he and Ankiel and make the “great baseball guy” platoon?

  14. ramblingalb - Jul 1, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    What Pdowdy said. Good platoon corner OF, good RH pop off the bench, probably a great guy to have around. Huge arm for RF, maybe can defend late if the fella he platoons with moves like Adam Dunn or myself after a big meal.

    Players like this have value, it’s too bad they aren’t used properly. Good luck to him.

  15. amuccigr - Jul 1, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    Best Frenchy was Bacon Tuesday Frenchy

    “Last year, some A’s fans held the first ever Bacon Tuesday during a game against the Royals.
    Jeff Francoeur was intrigued and tossed a ball wrapped in a $100 bill to the fans, instructing them to use the money to buy beer or bacon.

    Out of thanks, the crowd dedicated the 2nd annual Bacon Tuesday to Francoeur and even gave him a T-shirt.”

  16. dukepatrol - Jul 1, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    When they started to call him Frenchy I knew his days were numbered.The announcers for the Mets just loved him. I wanted to know,what they knew that at didn’t. The answer was they knew shut but liked him so they pumped him up.Finally he was mercifully traded from the Mets. I would hope they wouldn’t bring him back because if I hear once more announcer call him Frenchy I ‘m going to get violent and destroy my TV

  17. gunpowderjones - Jul 1, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    If the Pirates need a good corner outfielder, why would they sign a bad corner outfielder?

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