Outfielder Jeff Francoeur has found himself grounded in AAA El-Paso for all of 2014, stuck behind a strong outfield corps at the Major League level in San Diego. Jeff Francoeur may soon benefit from a rolling opt-out clause in his Minor League contract, however, which allows him to leave El Paso for a Major League deal at any time. Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish has reported that the Toronto Blue Jays could be a potential destination for the veteran outfielder.
Francoeur has experienced inconsistent levels of success at the Major League level since breaking onto the scene with back-to-back 100RBI seasons in Atlanta, as a rising star in 2006-’07. Throughout time with the Braves, Mets, Royals, and short stints with the Rangers and Giants, Jeff Francoeur has compiled a slash line of .263 / .306 / .419.
Francoeur has struggled over the past two seasons, during which he was released by the Royals and struggled greatly with the Giants, and last performed at a high level as a full-time player in 2011, while still with Kansas City. Under normal circumstances, this drought would be cause for concern. However, this situation could cause intrigue unique to Alex Anthopolous and the Toronto Blue Jays because of Francoeur’s Hitting Coach in 2011: Kevin Seitzer.
Adding Jeff Francoeur to the Blue Jays outfield could provide a stable fourth outfielder for Toronto. Rotating through Anthony Gose, Brad Glenn, Kevin Pillar, and Darin Mastroianni has certainly not sunk the Blue Jays, but bringing in Francoeur could eliminate the need for constant shuffling amongst the group.
One of the Blue Jays more glaring offensive weaknesses as of late, which is hitting left handed pitching, could possibly be aided by Francoeur as well, who slashes .285 / .335 / .465 against southpaws. Furthermore, in AAA El Paso this season, Jeff Francoeur has hit .296 with 15HR and 53RBI.
So, this begs the obvious question: why not? Why has Jeff Francoeur not already been signed by one of the other 29 teams? Unfortunately, there are two sides to statistics. The numbers in 2013, as you see above, are horribly uninspiring. Take notice of his 2012 season in Kansas City, as well, because Kevin Seitzer was still his Hitting Coach that season. What went wrong there? I will also make the argument that his inflated AAA El Paso numbers this season are largely a product of batting in the Pacific Coast League, a known “hitter’s league”.
What plagues Jeff Francoeur greatest, however, is his career 18.27% strikeout rate, something he hasn’t even shook in the Minor Leagues. Averaging just under one strikeout per ball game, Francoeur struggles to reach base and keep the lineup moving with effective AB’s. Perhaps Francoeur is French for Francisco.
Francoeur’s over-aggression was precisely what Kevin Seitzer (who heaped praise onto Francoeur in 2011) worked to eliminate in his last prominent season. The small distance between his Average and OBP will show you, though, that this may never be a part of Francoeur’s game.
A move for Francoeur certainly wouldn’t be done in hopes of adding significant new levels of production to the lineup. It would be done to solidify the 4th outfielder spot with a veteran bat that can offer (hopefully) average performances despite irregular playing time. I am not smitten with Jeff Francoeur’s swing-first mentality or recent struggles, but perhaps Alex Anthopolous wants to avoid having younger players (MLB experience-wise) like Glenn, Gose, or Pillar on the bench for 3-5 days between AB’s. Francoeur has been around the league, tasted the playoffs with the Texas Rangers, and should be able to understand his role as a RH bench bat and occasional spot-starter. Unfortunately, understanding your role and succeeding within it are two drastically different things.
I will recognize that it’s important to keep in mind that the addition of Jeff Francoeur is, basically, a free agent signing, and no trading of assets would be required. This would make the move very low-risk. Even though the move would only give the Blue Jays the “possibility” of a solid reserve outfielder, and a “chance” at re-igniting his bat with an old Hitting Coach, Toronto really has very little to lose. Should “we have little to lose” really be an MLB team’s greatest argument for a Major League roster move while clinging to 1st in the AL East, though? I hope not. However, if there are nine reasons that point to “why bother?”, I still think that the Blue Jays front office may find ten pointing towards “why not?”.
In the perfect world, Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar, or Darin Mastroianni would step up and begin to produce as a solid role player for the remainder of 2014. The Blue Jays haven’t lived in that perfect world for a decade or two, but from their pool of fringe-level big leaguers split between Buffalo and Toronto, one of them has to click. Right?..
Jeff Francoeur does have arguing points moving in his favour, and could provide a solid step for the Blue Jays, but at this point in his career, that step would most likely be sideways.