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.

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

  • LastRoyalsFan

    Kevin, every argument you made could also have equally applied to Alex Gordon. He’s relatively young with a career record of underperforming but having a standout season. Why didn’t you advocate flipping him?

    I see your position somewhat with Francoeur, but I think his defense and arm are worth keeping him around until Myers is ready. Why aren’t you calling out GMDM for not flipping Gordon? To my mind he’s in about the same position as Cabrera. How can one justify the presumption that Gordon’s resurgence is legit and Cabrera’s is only a fluke?

    I think we have three known quantities in Gordon, Cabrera and Francoeur. All are performing at an offensively adequate (or above) level. All are excelling defensively. Look at the top five outfielders in the AL in assists. Three of the five are listed above. Frankly, with our starting pitching talent I think defense is more highly valued than it might be otherwise. These guys are keeping runs off the board on almost a nightly basis. Could Cain or other prospects do that? Possibly. But we have a known quantity and frankly it’s not a bad outfield to build a team around for the next year or two.

    It’s true that Cain’s numbers are impressive (he has 8 assists this year himself, compared to 14, 10, 11 for our current outfielders). He is one year younger than Melky. He has already had a stint in the majors and performed well. I think he will either be up at some point or will be traded. What he is at this moment is essentially a replacement level player for Cabrera. No more, no less. Translated he is something the Royals haven’t had in a long time… depth at a position.

    Lastly I don’t think your “stuck-in-neutral” statement is accurate in describing the franchise. The team has retooled the outfield into arguably the best in the AL. A completely refreshed bullpen is performing well. They’ve significantly upgraded their options at 1B, SS and (hopefully) 3B. Basically with the exception of a better second baseman and young long-term catcher you are looking at the team of the future. The only item left that really requires fixing is starting pitching. I believe three quality pitchers are all that stand between the Royals and contending for the division. We may end up with two of those next year out of our bullpen and minor league system. And frankly, without paying megabucks, no solution to that problem was readily available for Melky or Frenchy at the deadline.

  • Kevin Scobee

    @LastRoyalsFan

    Gordon’s first two years in the majors weren’t “underperformance”, he was actually a pretty average to slightly above player (2.1 & 2.5 fWAR). And, Gordon’s tools and athleticism is substantially greater than either Cabrera or Francoeur. In my mind, you almost always bet on athleticism like his clicking. They’re really not all that similar of situations.

    I’ll give you that’s probably a cheap shot on my part. It was in my first draft and never got around to removing it because it doesn’t reflect my views entirely, moves like this make me feel like it does. I just don’t share the optimism that this front office can put it together at the major league level. What happens next year when Francoeur declines his mutual option and they renegotiate for $6M a year? What happens then when he turns back into being Jeff Francoeur and his number aren’t propped up by two good months?

    It just isn’t how I would do it. Then again, there’s a reason why the Royals front office is where they are, and I never will be.

  • royal_in_cincinnati

    Francoeur’s numbers are also brought down by two poor months. I know you can’t forget about 4-5 years of statistics. But everyone always calls 27-32 “prime years” for professional baseball players. Who’s to say that they just haven’t come into their primes? I am not all for keeping Cabrera and Francoeur, and leaving Cain in AAA. There has to be a way to create a good platoon situation. Gordon/Cabrera, Cain/Cabrera, and Francoeur/Cabrera. Having a switch hitter with a good enough arm to play RF, is not a bad thing to have as your 4th outfielder. Will these guys be “happy” being platooned, probably not. But if the Royals are ever going to compete they need this to work. Cabrera and Francoeur can also be used as the backup plan if Cain fails or Gordon regresses.

    The Royals are missing a “true” #1 or #2, which they may have in Monty, Duffy, Odorizzi, Lamb, Dwyer, or the 3rd wave. Nothing on Defense or the bullpen, and very few things on offense have kept this team from competing. I am ready to see Giavotella everyday at 2b, but other than that it has been a very good offensive team.

  • eric.akers

    I agree with some of LastRoyalsFan here. I disagree with your comment about Gordon looking way more athletic than Melky and Jeff; all three have hit for power, played excellent defense, and show good arm strength (one of them an absolute monster of an arm).

    I am curious about your last line that reads, “It just isn’t how I would do it. Then again, there’s a reason why the Royals front office is where they are, and I never will be.” So where is the front office?

  • LastRoyalsFan

    @Kevin Scobee

    True, they get to make the decisions and we get to use internet blogs to critique them. That is part of the fun of the game I guess.

    In your scenario above, hopefully the man crush GMDM seems to have on Francoeur wouldn’t extend to paying a ridiculous salary to keep him. I like the guy and think he is a positive in the clubhouse and is a good placeholder for Myers. However, if they have to overpay for him then I say let him go, shift Melky to RF and let Cain have CF. This, again, is a demonstration of the value of depth at a position.

    According to the latest Elias rankings Frenchy is just on the cusp of being classified as a Type B (he’s the highest non-ranked outfielder). I’m not an expert on the free agency process but if he can perform well enough to move into that category doesn’t that entitle the Royals to some draft pick compensation if he declines the option?

  • jim fetterolf

    “in front of four near-automatic outs.”

    The same outs before which Billy built his .400 OBP? Batting order has a lot to do with walks. As for what Melky and Frenchy were signed for, it doesn’t really matter. They are producing and only a couple of years older than Cain. Cain may be great, or he may be Kila. His performance in Omaha isn’t really standing out on that team. His range looks good, his arm is about like Melky’s, and he isn’t hitting much better in Omaha than Melky is or even much better than Frenchy.

    Hope springs eternal in the minor leagues, but Cain is blocked by a pretty good OF of 27 year olds, so might not see him til September. Competition is something new for Royals’ fans, but I think it’s a good thing.