Pumpkin Futures

First, this should start with a disclaimer. None of us, no Royals fan, has really any idea what went on in Dayton Moore’s office during the days and hours leading up to the Trade Deadline. We have no way of knowing if the Mike Aviles trade with Boston was Moore’s only real opportunity, or not. We have no way of knowing if he was burning up the phone lines trying all he could to find a taker for any one of his veteran players, or not.

And so this is entirely speculation (isn’t every blog post?) about the state of a stuck-in-neutral franchise and how they go about doing things, but with increased chatter about how willing – if not darn-right eager – the Royals are to bringing back what would have figured to be two of the team’s more valuable trade chips, they seem to think both players better days are ahead them. That’s worrisome.

Jeff Francoeur was signed in the off season to the surprise of no one. Everyone knew it was inevitable as much as two years ago, some longer than that. He encompasses all the things the Royals value in a player – leadership, plays hard, swing at everything approach – and none of the things they don’t, like some subjectively conceived bad attitude. He was the perfect Dayton Moore signing.

Melky Cabrera was a bit different. Signed just before the trade of Zack Greinke netted a younger, more athletic center fielder, Cabrera was brought in initially as nothing more than a placeholder. He was a guy to play the position of center field, though never really having the range to actually play it well, until a better option came along. To put it simply, Melky Cabrera was signed with the hope that he would put together a nice season, so he could be traded in July.

That’s what 4-6 year free agents, having played for multiple teams already, or available for in the off season. They are not difference makers or building blocks.

But then something strange happened.

For Francoeur, it was the month of April in which he hit .314/.357/.569, and immediately made everybody think he had finally “figured it out”. The hitting guru Kevin Seitzer had figured out whatever was ailing Frenchy at the plate, and his new nutrition and workout plan had left him a more athletic version of his former self. A star was reborn. Except, no, not so much. The next two months Francoeur would spend being, well, Francoeur again, and his on-base percentages of .287 and .280 in May and June respective, were his return to normalcy.

Admittedly July was also good to Francoeur, and it was maybe the best month he’s had in his major league career. The .306/.377(!)/.531 line would be confidence inspiring if most of that damage wasn’t done hitting behind Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer, and in front of four near-automatic outs.

Signing Melky Cabrera was, actually, a pretty shrewd move. At the moment of the deal it seemed like yet another one of Moore’s misadventures in the free agent market, signing a player whose name recognition far out-shined his overall talent. Cabrera played on good teams, teams where he was surrounded by All Stars and future Hall of Famers, so he has to be good because at the very least, he “knows how to win”.

Really though, it was the perfect buy-low proposition. If he was surrounded by the right guys in the lineup, and played solid defense, the $1 million-plus-incentives investment on Cabrera could pay off in the form of a trade piece come July.

At least that’s what the plan seemed to be at the time.

The Trade Deadline came and passed with no significant move by the Royals’ brass. Mike Aviles never had a chance with this current regime, especially once the mistake-free Chris Getz was acquired, so his eventually departure was really just assumed. But not trading at least one of the two outfielders, with Lorenzo Cain in Omaha playing well with nothing left to prove? That was pretty surprising. Add in that the team wants both of them back for next year? That’s really surprising.

Here are Melky Cabrera’s and Jeff Francoeur’s total fWAR over the last five years, including this year to date:

Cabrera Francoeur
2007

0.5

3.8*

2008

0.1

-0.8

2009

1.7

0.3

2010

-1.0

0.6

2011

3.6

2.3

 

*Aided dramatically by a 20.5 UZR/150. This season is Francoeur’s first season since above 4.

Do these look like numbers of players a team should be eager to bring back?

Neither Melky Cabrera nor Jeff Francoeur have a history of success at the major league level that even comes close to measuring up with what their reputations would have you believe. Their nice seasons this year stand out more as an example of how a player can string together a few solid months more so than evidence that they’re worthy of being considered everyday major league starters.

For over 3000 career at-bats, and over the past 3+ seasons, Cabrera and Francoeur have given the Royals more than enough evidence that they should not be considered untradeable. A 20 year old “C” level prospect should have been more than enough for either player to find their way out of Kansas City.

Players like Cabrera and Francoeur are signed with the hopes that they play well for four months, and that they can then be traded at the deadline. They are not signed to be a part of young, rebuilding team, just to be brought back in order to block younger player, in the hopes that lightning strikes twice.

Odds are they’re both going to turn back into pumpkins.

Tags: Billy Butler Jeff Francoeur KC Royals Lorenzo Cain Melky Cabrera Trade Deadline

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