Let me start by saying that for as much as he was ridiculed and lampooned during his spectacular crash with the Braves — and later in his many miserable months as a New York Met — former hometown hero Jeff Francoeur is one of the nicest guys you’re ever going to meet. He’s one of the finest all-around athletes you’re going to find in baseball, or any pro sport.
But one day in the midst of Francoeur-mania here in Atlanta, when the lower profile of the Braves’ two whiz kids, Brian McCann, was just starting to ascend, hitting coach Terry Pendleton said something to me: “I think we’ve all been paying attention to the wrong guy.”
Francoeur, once projected to be a franchise staple in right field for the Braves, like Dale Murphy, was traded for the second time in 13 months Tuesday night when the Mets dealt him to the Texas Rangers. He is a perfect illustration of how talent, energy and effort doesn’t guarantee success. He was hitting only .237 with the Mets, after actually having a career rebound following the trade to New York in July of 2009 (hitting .311 after starting the year .250 with the Braves).
Francoeur is still young enough (26) and certainly talented enough to have a solid career. But he has two significant problems he needs to fix:
♦ 1.) He’s hard-headed. He’s immature. For as good a guy as he is, he had a difficult time taking advice from Braves teammates and coaches. He never learned patience. The result was him trying to battle out of a slump himself. He pressed. Daily. Baseball can afford a hitter four chances a night and 24 to 28 in a week to break out of a slump. But that’s also more opportunities to go borderline psycho if an athlete doesn’t handle situations correctly. Francoeur didn’t handle things correctly. He opted for psycho.
♦ 2.) Francoeur’s representation has been poor. Baseball players don’t have salary leverage early in their careers. They must take what teams give them and wait until arbitration rights come around. McCann and his agent did so without a peep. Then in 2007, the Braves gave him a six-year contract. Conversely, Francoeur received bad advice from his agent, Molly Fletcher. They were unhappy with the Braves’ annual offers. Braves’ management rolled their eyes.
Then a few weeks ago, when Francoeur was being platooned, Fletcher actually requested a trade from the Mets, telling the Newark Star-Ledger: “We want to play every day.”
You want to make your client look bad real quick? Request a trade when he’s in a 15-for-88 slump.
Francoeur’s career is dropping parts on the highway. It’s not what anybody envisioned when he appeared on the Sports Illustrated cover five years ago this week. But guys labeled, “The Natural,” generally have more than talent.
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