I'm going to go ahead and make the prediction: Francoeur will not be wearing a Braves uniform for the 2010 season. There, I said it. Like any good attorney, I can make the case for why I'm right.
First, and most obvious, is his performance at the plate. His slugging percentage has steadily declined each year since he arrived at the Big Show: .549 in 2005, .449 in 2006, .444 in 2007 and .359 in 2008. He's only batted .300 once and it was during his partial 2005 season. Furthermore, his discipline at the plate has always been lacking. Quite simply, he shows no signs of ever being a power-hitting outfielder.
Second, Francoeur's attitude hasn't shown me that he's committed to staying in a Braves uniform. There's nothing wrong with that. Francouer has every right to play wherever he wants. The actions of players like Chipper Jones and Brian McCann have shown that they want to be in a Braves uniform every year. Chipper has worked with the team in the past to make it financially feasible for him to remain with the Braves. McCann signed a six-year deal in 2007, two years before he was arbitration eligible. Around the same time, Francoeur was also offered a long-term deal and declined. This year he appears to be headed to arbitration with the Braves. Francoeur made $450,000 in 2008, his last year before becoming eligible for arbitration. For 2009, he's asking for $3.95 million, which is quite a bit more than the $2.8 million offer the Braves have made. As you've seen over the last few weeks, most clubs and players work hard to avoid arbitration. It's a messy process and requires both the player and the club to say negative things about the other. It's simply not good for the relationship. Since Francoeur already declared the relationship damaged when he was sent to the minors last year, it's not all that surprising he's willing to go to arbitration and put the relationship on the line a little further.
The third reason I don't see Francoeur returning in 2010 is because the Braves have a talented youngster who could take his place, Jason Heyward. Baseball America had him as the #2 prospect in the Braves farm system for 2009, behind pitcher Tommy Hanson.
Lastly, I think Francoeur might simply be happier and more productive somewhere other than Atlanta. It's hard to live up to that Hometown Hero title. Since the day he was drafted there have been huge expectations. Most people aren't labeled Hometown Hero until after they've achieved something great. Francoeur got the label before he produced the results. He was supposed to be a phenomenal player and the face of the organization for the future. Sometimes it's hard to live up to the hype and there was certainly a lot of that here. I honestly believe he might flourish somewhere else.
For those reasons, I am predicting that Francoeur will be traded. I don't know if it'll be at the trade deadline or during the offseason, but I feel it brewing. Some of you out there might disagree with me, and it looks like Chipper Jones would too. In a Braves.com article, Chipper was quoted as saying, "Frenchy is going to hit cleanup for us this year." Chipper appears to be impressed with Francoeur's offseason work. Well, he can sell that all over town, but I'm not buying it. Am I optimistic that Francoeur has improved since last year? Absolutely, but that's just my personality. Do I think he's made such huge improvement that he'll bat cleanup? No way. I'm hoping for the best, but regardless of his performance this year I stand by my prediction that Francoeur will begin the 2010 season somewhere other than his hometown.