First of all, before we get started, we’d like to say hello and thanks to all of the visitors over the past day from Raptors Republic. Somehow a link to our post yesterday concerning the 2003 NBA draft found its way to their sidebar, and a good many folks decided to click on through. Much appreciated. Now, on with the show.
We’ve been hearing over the past week or so some fairly interesting (and disturbing, in our opinion) things out of Atlanta concerning possible trade scenarios, specifically regarding right fielder Jeff Francoeur. As of this posting, the Braves sit at 23-22, at third place in the NL East, just 2.5 games behind the division leading Phillies. Any Braves fan who could be truly honest with himself would say that this is the best he could hope for. Apparently, given the age in which we now live, where jounalists employed at traditional print outlets compete in a brutal marketplace along side sports talk radio and fan blogs of every shape and size in a game of constant one-ups manship to see who can have the loudest voice, farthest reach, and most ridiculous opinion, the effort shown by the Atlanta Braves to this point is not quite up to snuff. Furthermore, all of the aforementioned rabble rousers have seen fit to direct their ire toward one player in particular, local high school legend turned hometown star, Jeff Francoeur. Briefly perusing MLB Trade Rumors and their comment sections would give one the impression that Frenchy is mostly to blame for this allegedly subpar performance, and that he sits squarely atop the trading block for a team desperately in need of a big bat. We take a bit of an issue with that stance.
First of all, we believe that most of this ill will is carried forward from last season, which everyone can agree was positively dreadful for Francoeur, and the Braves overall. If you look a bit closer at this year’s performance, you will see that while Francoeur does rank at the bottom of everyday players in walks, and is second on the team in strikeouts, he is third on the team in RBI, one behind Casey Kotchman, and is third in total bases. Francoeur is making $3.375 million this year, and is arbitration eligilble through 2011. It is our opinion that the front office, spearheaded by GM Frank Wren, is using Francoeur as a scapegoat for their own shortcomings, and attempting to conceal their true motives.
Let’s address the first part of that last sentence. After an offseason which left the Braves fanbase feeling like everyone’s backup prom date, Frank Wren is no doubt feeling some pressure to do something that at least has the appearance of keeping up with the Joneses of the NL East, the Phillies and the Mets. Wren was publicly depantsed and emasculated by Rafael Furcal and the Dodgers, which slammed shut the door of possibility of trading Yunel Escobar to San Diego for Jake Peavey. As if that were not enough, Wren was again used by Ken Griffey, Jr. to leverage what amounts to a lifetime contract with the Seattle Mariners. Add to that the fact that the franchise also lost out on A.J. Burnett (which, on its own, was not a surprise to the objective viewer, but, when added to the above list, serves to pile another log on the fire currently smoldering under Wren’s office chair), and Brad Penny, and let John Smoltz walk away for what amounted to a small difference in salary, and opted to keep Tom Glavine, who now stands in the way of the ascension of phenom Tommy Hanson. And if all of that is not enough, Wren also dealt outfielder Josh Anderson to Detroit, so that Jordan Schafer, riding the wave of a hot spring, could assume the starting responsibilities in center field. Prior to spring training, it was assumed that Anderson would make the big league squad, and Schafer would continue to hone his game in AAA, just a short ride away in Gwinnett. Instead of taking the more cautious approach, Wren pulled the trigger on the trade with the Tigers, and as of today, Schafer has accumulated only 9 more hits in twice as many plate appearances. Had Wren held onto Anderson, the Braves outfield would likely not be viewed as the toxic waste dump it is today, and the need would not exist to attempt to make another panic driven snap trade, which will likely end up on the debit side of the Braves ledger, as opposed to the other way around.
That sickening sum total of those moves has now put Francoeur in a situation where the cost conscious Braves would like to unload him before having to sit down at the arbitration table, he no doubt feels unwanted by the favorite team of his childhood, and it seems a foregone conclusion that he will end this season wearing another uniform. It has long been our opinion that when examining the big picture aspect of the Francoeur circumstance, there is no logical conclusion other than that the Braves and their fans have absolutely no right to complain about what they’re receiving from their starting right fielder. This season is the first in which Francoeur will earn over $1 million, he has won a Gold Glove, still possesses one of the stronger outfield arms in the game, and, until recently, has been a fan favorite. We are also of the opinion that Francoeur has, and always will be, unfairly judged against the accomplishments of one of his childhood friends, and another member of the “Baby Braves” that stormed into the bigs from AA to help the Braves win the last of their record string of Division titles, Brian McCann. Again, to the impartial observer, this is a most unfair comparison. McCann is among the elite catchers in the league, and, in today’s climate of instant analysis that seeks to measure all sports as if they were football, Francoeur cannot possibly be granted a fair performance review.
It is a sad state of affairs, and we predict that it can only end badly. After all, if Francoeur is traded for a rent-a-player, the once proud Atlanta Braves franchise will still be saddled with the poor decisions and misdeeds of the past offseason, and the front office that brought them to fruition. Until next time, so long everybody.