These are disheartening days for the Braves. For Jeff Francoeur in particular. For those who came to Turner Field to cheer him, but now who jeer him. When Mark Bowman, of MLB.com, wrote that this might be a pertinent time to consider locating another employer for him, oh, did that set off a firestorm! A flurry of conjecture.
Trade Jeff Francoeur? Homegrown hero? Onetime Sports Illustrated cover boy? Where did it all go?
Let me take you back to those Camelot days, when the Braves’ roster was plump with bright young prospects. There was a pod of them, all seeming to ripen at the same time. A sort of an informal Boy Scout troop of them, who went to each other’s weddings, and celebrated their togetherness like club members.
Remember their names, for some are long gone. Francoeur, Brian McCann, Macay McBride, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Langerhans, and two Canadians, Pete Orr and Scott Thorman.
McBride, traded to the Tigers, is recovering from arm surgery at Toledo. Orr and Langerhans are working on the Nationals’ farm team at Syracuse. Thorman has sort of disappeared from the screen. And we all know where McCann, Johnson and Francoeur, the subject of the moment, are, and of the three, McCann was the only unrated prospect in his early days on the farm. Remember? When the Braves offered both McCann and Francoeur long-range contracts last year, McCann took it and is signed through 2012.
Francoeur played the odds, and banked on going to the arbitration table calling his shots. His timing couldn’t have been worse. What followed is the season of remission.
He heard sounds coming from the stands at Turner Field he had never heard before. Boos and taunts, mild at first, but for a local favorite who had reaped nothing but adulation through high school at Parkview and two-and-a-half gaudy seasons with the Braves?
Where had it all gone?
Meanwhile, McCann was harvesting a national following for his bat, and for his backstopping. Most of it. You could steal a base on him, and he was no adagio at blocking low pitches. But he could hit, and so could Ernie Lombardi, whose career wasn’t based on backstopping.
But in the case of Francoeur, you ask where did it all go? Home runs, RBIs, and yes, strikeouts, as well? Last season it seemed the rest of the league had caught up with Francoeur’s habits, and what developed was a bottom-line .239 batting average and a mere 11 home runs. He didn’t strike out as often, but that was because his patience ran low and he swung at anything early and often.
While the Braves spent all manners of time waiting for two dear old relics to return to their days of pitching glory, patience ran low with Francoeur. Was it because he had taken off to Texas in hope that Rudy Jaramillo, the Rangers’ hitting guru, might help him return to glory? It was furtively done, and true, he also recommended Andruw Jones try the same “cure.” It has worked out better for Andruw. Francoeur now finds himself the subject of trade speculation. From hometown hero to hometown trade bait, perish the thought. I can’t see it. His market value has reached GM level.
Is there not enough patience to help him work his way through it? Whoever thought it could come to this for Jeff Francoeur. (In closing, let me apologize for referring to John Smoltz and Tom Glavine as “relics.” But it takes one to know one.)