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francoeur-didnt-want-a-long-term-contract-this-offseason-so-how-much-should-he-be-worth | March | 2008 Articles

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Frenchy Didn't Want a Long-Term Contract. So How Much Is He Worth?

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Jeff Francoeur just got renewed for one more year, which means that long-term contract talks are on hold. The AJC's Carroll Rogers: "Frenchy said this: 'Would I like to have gotten something worked out? Absolutely. At the same time, I’m looking forward to this year and having a big season. I have a year until I’m eligible for arbitration, then we’ll see what happens.' Translation, the kid will take some time to earn some leverage." Leverage is a double-edged sword, though. Using Bill James' similarity scores, Francoeur has an impressive list of comparables through his age-23 season: the top three are Greg Luzinski, Jeff Burroughs, and Jack Clark. After that, though, the list gets murkier, from the good (Harold Baines) and the bad (Ellis Valentine, Del Ennis, Ben Grieve, Bruce Campbell -- not the Evil Dead guy), to the halfway decent (Gus Bell, Johnny Callison). But Francoeur isn't in the middle of the pack with respect to his sim score peers. He's near the bottom -- the lowest OPS+, the second-lowest OBP, the second-most strikeouts, the fewest walks. And what happens next year is likely to be a much better predictor of the curve than the last two and a half years have been. At age 24, Bell, Callison, and Luzinski all had their best seasons (and Ennis his second-best); Valentine played his last full season; Grieve began his slide toward oblivion; Campbell had his worst season in an utterly mediocre career; and Baines was essentially the player he'd be for the next two decades. So, basically, next year is when we'll get to see who Jeff Francoeur really is. Is he the guy whose ISO has dropped precipitously in each of his three seasons in the majors, whose bat has been dismissively described as "slider-speed," whose career OBP is .319 and whose control of the strike zone is so shaky that 42 walks in 692 PA is seen as a move in the right direction, and whose defensive acumen -- due to the occasionally boneheaded routes we've all seen him take -- prevents him from being able to replace Andruw Jones in center, which would make his offensive deficiencies much easier to swallow? Or will he become a dependable slugger, our new David Justice, a slugger who finally hits as good as he looks, who puts all his tools together and has the major breakout everyone's been predicting since he was drafted? And how much would you pay to lock him up, given the uncertainty? We control his rights for three more arbitration-eligible years, and judging by the way that arbitration payments have been going recently, I think it's possible to expect that will start to cost serious money in short order, easily $20 million over the next 3 years. I'd say that $40 million for 5 years (or $50 for 6) would be reasonable, but if Frenchy's holding out for a huge payday, I don't know that he'd accept it, even with a hometown discount. Despite his manifold flaws as a hitter, he manages the difficult feat of being an SI Cover Boy who is heralded by the Baseball Prospectus as being potentially undervalued. But if he doesn't want to sign for the right money, we don't necessarily need him. Brandon Jones could very likely provide about 90% of the offensive production of Francoeur from 2005-2007, which is to say, that of a replacement-level corner outfielder. And, of course, he can do it at a much lower cost once Francoeur enters arbitration, because his arbitration clock is two and a half years behind Francoeur's. (When they talk about replacement-level, it's because you can be replaced.) And, in any case, in a few years we'll need to find a place for Jason Heyward. The main reason to keep Francoeur is his potential -- he has a much higher ceiling than Jones, but we still have no idea if he'll reach it. Maybe this year we'll find out.
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