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August 18, 2011

Transaction Analysis Blog

Royals Extend Francoeur

by R.J. Anderson

Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Kansas City Royals
Signed OF-R Jeff Francoeur to a two-year extension. [8/18]

If Dayton Moore or Francoeur does something, then snark tends to follow. If Moore and Francoeur do something, then snark may as well tag along as the third wheel. As such, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Twitter’s reaction to the extension featured a sardonic tone.

Everyone reading this knows why people dislike Francoeur—if not, get a whiff of some Francoeurganda. You probably know about the when to shave meme, or how he once took nude batting practice, and all the other tales that are only admirable—heck, are only acceptable—when viewed through the prism of a baseball clubhouse. Is it unfortunate that these antics interfere with honest opinions about Francoeur’s baseball ability? Yes, but it runs both ways.

Even if we keep the discourse limited mostly to Francoeur the baseball player playing baseball, the extension is worth $13.5 million, and that feels like too much for a player who could end the season averaging one Win Above Replacement Player since 2009. Depending on the market value for wins, one can make the case that maybe Francoeur would be worth $4-to-$5 million next season, and probably about as much in 2013, bringing his projected value to $8-to-$10 million. It isn’t that simple, though, as analysts will differ on how they choose to weigh the past three seasons and the likelihood that he might be establishing a new level of play. The Royals seem to be amongst the more optimistic in their projections.

Francoeur turns 28 next season and has hit .270/.313/.423 since 2009. Relative to the league, Francoeur is having a career-best season in 2011 by hitting .278/.328/.465. The defensive metrics seem split on whether Francoeur is an acceptable fielder or not, but the man can throw a baseball well, and that tends to override any critiques of iffy range. The Royals are paying Francoeur as if he is an everyday player, and that is an undesirable outcome given what we know about him.

If there has been one good tool in Francoeur’s offensive game, it is his ability to hit left-handed pitching. Since 2009, his OPS against southpaws is better than Hunter Pence, better than Michael Young, better than Matt Holliday, better than Corey Hart, better than Dustin Pedroia, better than Hanley Ramirez, better than Alex Rodriguez, better than Ben Zobrist, better than Torii Hunter, and on, and on, and on. Yes, maybe it is unfair to compare Francoeur to a diminutive middle infielder—or any middle infielder—but those aren’t chumps. The key then for Francoeur is his performance against right-handed pitching. This season would be the first since 2007 that he managed an OPS over 700 against pitchers of the same hand, so it’s far from a safe bet that he will continue to hit them this well.

Ostensibly, some of the dislike for this deal will carry over from those who were dismayed that the Royals did not trade Francoeur at the trade deadline. Assuming the Reds and Twins properly evaluated the market, then the returns on Jonny Gomes and Delmon Young do not inspire much confidence. Factor in that the Royals had the chance to retain Francoeur’s services in 2012 (more on this in a second), and it’s possible Kansas City simply valued present wins more than the slight potential for future wins.

You have to ask what this means for the 2012 Royals, who were supposed to take baseball by storm, but it doesn’t appear to mean a whole lot. Alex Gordon is going to be one of the outfielders, and beyond that it gets fuzzy. If the plan is to have Lorenzo Cain take over center field (and there is no reason for that not to happen), then the Royals will have Melky Cabrera and Francoeur around to man right field. However, it isn’t a slam-dunk that Cabrera shows up next season in good shape, and he hasn’t hit left-handed pitching well throughout his career. Maybe the Royals can platoon the pair, or maybe the idea is to trade Cabrera and have Francoeur and Mitch Maier (or whomever) split time in right until Wil Myers is ready.

Oh, and what does this tell us about the Royals' opinion of Myers? Again, not much. Myers is still just 20 years old, but he is struggling a bit in his first exposure to Double-A. That isn’t a crime, but expecting Myers to put everything together and reach the majors by the All-Star break of next season would be a reach, making the 2013 season or maybe even 2014 more realistic entry points. It’s hard to slam the Royals too hard if they play it cautious with Myers after pushing Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to the majors only to see both struggle—with the latter taking struggle to a whole new level.

As for the decision to give Francoeur two years, again, keep in mind that the two sides had a mutual option for next season. Unless the Royals were offering a pretty penny for next season, there was no real reason for Francoeur to opt against testing the open market. The Royals could have let him walk and could have found a similar player on a one-year deal, but the qualitative stuff and the perceived upside of Francoeur probably did them in. It comes down to this: if you believe Francoeur’s newly established level of play can be maintained, then this is a fine, and even a good contract. If not, then you will hold the opinion that the Royals bought high, likely did not make an honest assessment of Francoeur’s abilities, and overpaid. Still, they did not hand out the worst contract ever, and all snark aside it isn’t even the most senseless extension of the past 12 months.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Royals,  Jeff Francoeur

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