The Plus Side of Adding Jeff Francoeur


Jeff Francoeur.

One NL club official, on Francoeur in ’11: “He’ll be a #Royal. Guaranteed.”

Like it or not, the odds that Francoeur is signed this offseason are higher than ever, suggesting to most fans and baseball followers that Dayton has truly lost his mind. It’s been pretty easy to chastise this future move just from watching Francoeur, but there is a positive spin to be had here. Check it out after the jump.

Let’s run over the oft-cited stats before I get ahead of myself. Since his solid rookie season in 2005, when he hit .300/.336/.549, Francoeur has batted better than .260 over a full season twice and had an OBP higher than .310 once. His slugging percentage hasn’t passed .450 since then and his 2.5 WAR of his rookie season makes up over half of his career 4.0 WAR. This year, he ranked last in OBP, second-to-last in slugging percentage, and fifth-to-last in both batting average and WAR out of all MLB right fielders with at least 450 plate appearances. After arbitration, he somehow managed to make nearly $9 million in two seasons even though his performance continued to sputter. To sum up his knowledge about offensive performance, here’s a gem of a statement from the man himself as quoted by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick:

“If on-base percentage is so important, then why don’t they put it up on the scoreboard?”

Defensively, Francoeur is a right fielder and should apparently never play anywhere else. His career UZR in right field is 39.1 (20.4 of his total UZR in right came in 2007), whereas he’s compiled a -0.3 and 0.0 in left and center, respectively. To be fair, that’s from 12 total innings in left and 3 in center over his career, but you get the picture. His F2O%, or percentage of fielded balls that resulted in outs, in right field is 49% over his career, or almost exactly league average (50%). Though his UZR did dip below 0 in 2008 and 2009, it moved back up to 3.1 in 2010, ranking him sixth out of 14 right fielders with at least 1000 innings. He is an average to slightly-below average fielder, depending on the season and park. Over time he could become a left fielder, but for now he’s in right.

So what is there to like about Jeff Francoeur in a Royals jersey? First, things could be much worse. I assume you all remember the exploits of one Jose Guillen when he donned the Royal blue. Things were somewhat okay, performance-wise, for a season, but Guillen was never worth anything close to the $12 million the Royals were paying him per year. In contrast, Francoeur has been at least remotely close to his contract amount. Though he was a true bargain from 2005-2008, his last two years have sold him a little high. That means he’s on the bargain side of the dollar at this point.

We all know that Dayton often overspends on free agents that absolutely won’t be worth that money and will tack on extra years just to get them to KC. With Francoeur, there’s no way that someone, not even Dayton, gives him $5 million a year after his production the last couple of seasons. While signing him might require a little hassling, a deal along the lines of 3 years and $10 million wouldn’t be a horrible expense, from my view. Will we get that money back in his performance? Possibly not. One of my favorite things in the baseball offseason is risk-taking with hopes that it works. Some risks are obviously going to be failures and some have a shot of working out. While Francoeur isn’t an MVP candidate or All-Star every season, you’ll get something fairly consistent out of him over his contract length. As long as you don’t have excessively high hopes, he’ll be a Yuni-esque “what you see is what you get” sort of guy. And just like Yuni, he might have one or more seasons where he’s better than you expect him to be.

My second point is this: Francoeur plays much more strongly in the second half than the first half. While this doesn’t bring much to the table right now, in two or three years it could be an important piece of the puzzle. Given the three-year contract I mentioned above, Francoeur’s down-the-stretch ability could be useful to get a boost toward the top of the division and to the postseason in a few years.

Don’t believe it? Let’s look at his career in the first half versus the second. In the first half, Francoeur hit .259/.297/.406 in 442 games with a tOPS+ of 91, which means that he hits worse than his average in that time span. Now, in the second half of all the seasons in his career he’s run up a line of .278/.324/.446 with a tOPS+ of 110 in 403 games. His BB/K ratio also improved from 0.26 to 0.30 (even though he his intentional walks decreased) and he hit more doubles in the second half (87) than in the first (80) despite playing fewer total games down the stretch. That’s not to say he always starts cold, but instead that he tends to produce worse in June and July than the rest of the season. Another thing to take from this is that he can play for whole seasons. In 2006 and 2007 Francoeur played every game and just missed 12 games from 2008-2009. Jason Kendall looks like Mr. Glass from Unbreakable compared to Francoeur’s Iron Man.

While he won’t be a typical corner outfield power bat, Francoeur will bat for a decent average and will get on base at a better clip than we’re really used to. He’s not an excellent player in terms of the whole league, but relative to recent Royals, he’s not as bad as you’d think. When the young guys (including Myers possibly moving to right field) emerge, Francoeur can be a decent bench player and can be moved out of the way. If he plays really well compared to what we expect, he can be traded. He’s not immediately blocking too many prospects, with David Lough the only real exception right now, so he doesn’t do any immediate damage. That’s especially true if any trades occur.

That brings me to my last, and most important, point. Adding Francoeur likely means another trade happened/will happen and that trade was/will be a big deal. Before Dejesus was injured, he mostly played in right. While it’s possible Dayton might tab him to play center, it seems more probable that Dyson, Maier, or Blanco will be the starting center fielder in 2011. With Gordon now a left fielder, Dejesus would become the odd man out unless Francoeur plays a bench role (which wouldn’t be absolutely horrible given a bargain contract). After the Royals picked up Dejesus’ option for 2011, it’s possible that some of the teams that had interest before his injury could have maintained that interest, seeing David as a cheaper alternative to Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. While the value would not be as high as it was during the season, swapping Dejesus and another guy like Fields, Betemit, or, dare I say it, Kila to a team for a few prospects might not be a horrible idea. It would unplug some crowded areas on the field and allow for room for young guys at Omaha to start breaking into the majors. All in all, signing Francoeur could mean that Dayton is opening holes for the young guys to shine through by way of trading more valuable players.

While no one is looking forward to Francoeur likely becoming a Royal, it isn’t the end of the world. It can indicate quite a bit more about the changing circumstances the team finds itself in rather than just another acquisition of Dayton’s old scouting results at Atlanta. Just remember: every cloud has a silver lining. This cloud may end up being a type 2 hurricane, but the immediate changes it incurs or results from could be just another part of turning around the Royals for the future.

The moral of the story is that when life gives you Frenchy, make french toast.