This is how much the Braves wanted rid of Jeff Francoeur: They traded him to a team they’ll play 19 times a year, which means they’d rather put themselves in the repeated position of losing to him than have kept him around here. That’s how far the Golden Child had fallen, and how fast.
If you’d hung around the team this summer, you could tell the Braves’ patience had reached its end. Even after his Texas tutorial with Rudy Jaramillio, Francoeur was the same as he’d been last season, give or take. Even after vowing many times to be a new Frenchy, he was the familiar flailing Frenchy. And the Braves had seen enough.
He’s not a bad guy — on the contrary, he’s a fine fellow — but neither is he easy to coach. He’d been a success in every sport at every level but couldn’t master the adjustments every successful big-league hitter must make. It’s not that he didn’t try to change. He changed his swing several times. Trouble was, he couldn’t change himself.
Francoeur is a baseball player with a football mentality, and that doesn’t cut it over the long haul. A baseball player must be measured in his approach. The same aggressiveness that made Francoeur one of the greatest high school football players this blessed state has ever seen — as a Parkview junior, he averaged a touchdown catch as a wide receiver and an interception as a defensive back per game — ultimately rendered him a substandard big-league hitter.
Terry Pendleton and Bobby Cox get hammered for not imparting plate discipline on their prized pupil, but Francoeur was swinging at everything before he became a Brave. He batted eight times in a playoff doubleheader his senior season at Parkview; seven times he swung at the first pitch. He could get away with it then because he was just so gifted, but gifts alone don’t cut it in the major leagues. Not for long.
Francoeur arrived in 2005 and rose to the moment, and we really expected no less. After all, he was a big-time athlete who’d spent his young life rising to such moments. But the Francoeur of 2008 and 2009 was a shadow of the rookie Frenchy. That one was dauntless. This one was aimless. For that first giddy season we were shocked if he made an out; for the past two summers we’ve been surprised if he gets a hit.
I can’t say this trade pleases me — I’ve known Francoeur since he was 17 and like him very much — but I have to say I saw it coming. By going to Jaramillo, he’d damaged his standing with Pendleton and Cox, and the only way you mend a damaged baseball relationship is by producing. And Francoeur had stopped producing at an acceptable rate. He’d become a liability. He needed something he could never get as a Brave. He needed a new start.
And now he has one. I hope he makes it work. I hope he hits .300 and drives in 100 runs next season and every season thereafter, and I don’t care if he inflicts major damage on his former employer. For the good of both parties, this was a trade the Braves had to make. Even if the only team willing to take Francoeur was the hated Mets, the Braves still had to make it.
On July 7, 2005, Jeff Francoeur hit a home run in his first big-league game. Four years and three days later, he was traded for Ryan Church, a right fielder having an even worse year. Four years and three days later, the Golden Child was given the golden boot.