The Mets bench my longtime nemesis, Jeff Francoeur

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For years I moaned every time Jeff Francoeur’s name appeared in the Braves’ lineup (which was every single game between 2005 and 2009, really). The guy couldn’t hit. He was killing my team. I couldn’t complain too much, though, because for reasons known only to John Schuerholz, Frank Wren and God Almighty, the Braves never made an effort to go and get an outfielder who deserved Francoeur’s playing time more than Francoeur himself did.

With Carlos Beltran’s return the Mets aren’t in that situation, however, and now they’ve done what the Braves never would or never could allow themselves to do: they’ve sent Frency to the benchy:

Manager Jerry Manuel met with Francoeur for about 30 minutes Sunday
to discuss what Beltran’s activation would mean for his role on the
team. Both Manuel and Francoeur described the meeting as very positive.

Manuel told reporters before Sunday’s game against the Braves that he
planned to shift Angel Pagan to right field upon Beltran’s return,
displacing Francoeur, who Manuel said would start mostly against
left-handed pitchers.

To Francouer’s credit, he is saying all the right things. Pagan deserves to start. He’ll do his best as a pinch hitter and platoon bat (Frenchy ain’t fantastic against lefties, but he’s hitting them better than Pagan is this year). He’s not going to sit and sulk. In short, he’s being a pro.

This is quite a contrast to the last time Francoeur faced some professional adversity. The Braves sent him down to the minors a few years ago to try and get him to work on not swinging at every pitch he saw (which was quite a damning statement given that the Braves have never placed all that much emphasis on plate discipline). Francoeur’s response: full-blown temper tantrum.  The experiment was supposed to last for several weeks but ended up lasting three days thanks to Francoeur’s sulk-fest. Always tight with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it was really no surprise to see the press rally to his side and to see the Braves’ front office cave in.  I had been souring on Frenchy for some time before that, but that incident turned me off him for good.

He’s off my team now and on he’s on my team’s rival so I have no need to really consider Francoeur all that deeply anymore. Yet like someone involved in a bad breakup, I still think about him a lot. Maybe it’s schadenfreude at him hurting the Mets. Maybe it’s just because he’s not causing me direct pain anymore. Whatever it is, I’m starting to soften on the guy.

Indeed, this benching incident — and his response — actually has me thinking nice things about him for the first time in a good four years. For the longest time my biggest beef against Francoeur wasn’t that he was bad per se, it was that he seemed completely unwilling to acknowledge that his game was flawed and that he had anything to learn.  In his response to being benched, however, it seems that he has at least begun to accept reality, and that’s something.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.