You know your team has just made a fantastic signing when you find yourself thinking “Well, at least he’s an awesome guy.” I highly doubt we’ll see Francoeur in an Indians uniform after spring training (maybe not even in a Columbus uniform) but he will be in camp with the Tribe on a minor league deal. I’ve said before that I never really have a problem with minor league deals that contain an invite to spring training. That’s how the Indians found Scott Kazmir and Ryan Raburn last season, and you never know when you may be able to pluck someone out of the bargain bin. Plus it’s not like the player is taking up a roster spot, or breaking the bank.
I’ll talk a bit about the negatives of Francoeur, including the fact that he’s just not that good at baseball. Then I’ll tell you the positives of this deal (i.e. Francoeur is an awesome guy) to keep you from banging your head repeatedly against the wall after you read about how bad he is at baseball.
Let’s start with Francoeur’s tenure with the Kansas City Royals. The team signed Francoeur to a one-year deal prior to the 2011 season, and in August of that year gave him a two-year extension through the 2013 season. It was worth $13.5 million, which was pretty steep for a player with Francoeur’s credentials (or lack thereof). The Royals finally decided to eat the rest of the contract (approximately $3 million) when they released him last July. He was picked up by the San Francisco Giants on a minor league deal and eventually had 62 at-bats with the team. His 2013 numbers, between Kansas City and San Francisco, was .204/.238/.298 with three home runs.
In 2012, Francoeur actually ranked third to last in all of baseball in WAR – he was at -1.7 (according to Fangraphs), ahead of just Michael Young and teammate Eric Hosmer (who, if you remember, had a rough year in 2012). His stats line that season was .235/.287/.378 with 16 home runs. The Royals basically had to hang onto him, since they still owed him $7.5 million in 2013. I mean, there was nothing stopping them from releasing him anyway, but you rarely see a team cut loose a guy with that much money tied to him. I always viewed Francoeur as a stop-gap until Wil Myers was ready for the majors, then the Royals traded him to the Rays for James Shields. Some Royals fans I know were actually afraid this meant that Francoeur would be sticking around beyond 2013, but obviously the Royals figured they could find someone else to play at least at replacement level for a much cheaper cost. The Royals were supposedly pushing for a reunion with Carlos Beltran this offseason, but he ended up picking the New York Yankees instead (even though Kansas City’s deal was reportedly at least as good as the Yankees’ offer, if not slightly better).
One of the reasons that the Royals likely extended Francoeur was because he was having a good 2011 season – he was at 3.2 bWAR (the second highest total of his career) and hit .285/.329/.476 with 20 home runs and 22 stolen bases. Until 2011, Francoeur had never stolen more than 8 bags during a season, but he had shown power – he hit 29 home runs with Atlanta in 2006. At one point Francoeur was actually a fairly highly touted prospect with the Braves; he was drafted by them in the first round of the 2002 draft. But he never quite lived up to his promise and has been bouncing around the majors after a trade to the Mets in 2009. He’s got speed and a great arm, but is terribly inconsistent at the plate. If you look at his OBP totals from 2012 and 2013 (.287 and .238 respectively) they’re just dismal. He showed little patience as a hitter, and that’s not always an easy thing to correct. Francoeur will turn 30 on Wednesday, so he’s obviously still a young guy. I don’t think there’s some hidden talent left to be found though, and his destiny probably lies in either Japan or South Korea. I see that as a more appealing option for him than accepting an assignment to the minors after spring training.
Now, for the more awesome aspects of Francoeur. One of the things I’ve noticed (and can’t un-notice) and have mentioned on here numerous times, is that he compulsively touches himself in right field. Not in a creepy or perverse way, in a nervous tick sort of way. It’s honestly a sight to behold, I can’t do justice trying to describe it with words. Much like the Indians’ “Brohio” promotion (a shirt and a seat in a specific section) the Royals for a time had “Frenchy’s Quarter, an area of right field where you got a ticket and a free shirt. There are a number of fans that have left a game with more than just a free shirt when Francoeur is involved. When he was being heckled by some Athletics fans in Oakland, Francoeur tossed a ball into the crowd with a $100 bill attached and a note that said to buy beer or bacon with the money. Fans in that section at the Coliseum cheered for Francoeur every time he returned and even had a shirt made for him. He responded by sending the section 20 pizzas during a return visit to Oakland. And because he didn’t want to leave the home fans feeling left out, he once tossed a signed ball with a $100 bill attached to fans at Kauffman Stadium with a note instructing them to buy beer with the money.
As I mentioned above, I really don’t expect to ever see Jeff Francoeur in an Indians uniform after spring training. Just in case – remember that he’s a pretty awesome guy. We could always try to get a ball with a cool note tossed to us in the stands as a consolation prize.