One of the most overused phrases in professional sports is the mantra that “it’s a business.” The problem with overused phrases and cliches is that they are often true. The reason that this is so especially difficult to remember in sports is that there is typically an overwhelming emotional attachment between a fan base and its respected team. There are different ways that this can happen.
One particular issue teams occasionally come up against is the aging star having to accept a lesser role. I was really interested in the situation the Yankees were facing with Derek Jeter last year. He was hitting poorly and needed to be moved to the back end of the batting order based on his performance. The problem? He’s Derek Jeter. A Yankee icon. He didn’t want to move down in the lineup and the organization seemed kind of forced to ride things out. It’s an interesting problem that some teams have. What happens when a star player reaches the end of his career and thinks he has more left in the tank than the organization does? What happens when a team has to cut ties with a fan favorite or reduce his playing time? Luckily for the Yanks, Jeter got it together somewhat and is still playing okay, but I think he’s the type of guy who may struggle to find his own identity as his skills decline. That’s a situation that will be interesting to keep your eye on in the next couple of seasons.
That problem is not present in Kansas City, but we have a somewhat similar issue. Jeff Francoeur has had an awful year. There’s no way around that. He has a slash line of .236/.275/.364/.639. He has 17 walks compared to 75 strikeouts. He has Wil Myers in the minors behind him who should probably be getting some M.L.B. time, regardless of a slight slump in numbers from his early-season pace.
Many times, it’s not that big of a deal. A player is under-performing? You replace him with another player. Especially if you have high hopes for that replacement. It makes things easier if the under-performing player is disliked in the clubhouse, is paid little, and/or is despised by fans. The problem with Jeff Francoeur is that he is none of those things. He is beloved in the clubhouse and is a vocal leader, he got an 13 million dollar extension last year that makes him a Royal through next year unless the team can somehow find a way to deal him, and he is loved by many fans and has his own section out in right field known as the “French Quarter.”
I think it’s hard to dislike Franceour as an individual, particularly the moment you see his big boyish grin that just seems to say, “Hey guys, let’s go play some baseball.”
The problem I have, which I’m sure is the same that many of you struggle with, is that Franceour’s numbers are awful. Also, his track record and age make it almost impossible to believe that things are going to change. He’s blocking Wil Myers and we’re going to pay him almost 7 million next year for what I think won’t be much of an improvement on this year. Unfortunately, not even Frenchy’s boyish charm can sway me in this regard. The Royals are going to have to try and ship him even if they have to eat a considerable chunk of his salary, which is a possibility that is highly likely if a deal can even be made. The question is, who is going to want him at this point with the numbers he’s currently sporting? The Royals may have to find a way to get him going to draw some interest, but they better do it quick.
Because, sweet mercy, I’m not waiting until 2014 to see Wil Myers in right field. I’m sorry, Frenchy, I like you well enough, but you’re not producing on a 6.75 million dollar basis. Something’s gotta happen.