Scenes from Spring Training: I get the Jeff Francoeur love

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This isn’t going to change my view of his ballplaying skills or anything, but I’m gonna be honest and say it: Jeff Francoeur is a nice guy. So much so that it made me spend some time thinking this morning about my place in the baseball writing world.  But I’ll get to that in a minute. For now, a rundown of my morning:

I got to The Surprise Recreation Campus just before 8AM. And it is a campus. It’s the first complex where it was hard to find the actual ballpark, what with the apartments, hotels, water parks, schools, fitness centers and everything else in the area.  There’s a lot of land out here in the far northwest side of town, but the city fathers of Surprise decided that the recreation was gonna be right HERE.

Nice place, though. Very friendly staff. As is usually the case I got lost seventeen times and each time an extremely patient person steered me in the right direction. The only hiccup came when I asked someone if I could walk to where they were directing me. There was a look of horror on her face when I suggested walking. “Oh, my, no, you wouldn’t want to do that.”  My destination ended up being less than a quarter of a mile away. Clearly the walk would have meant my end.

As I walked past the players’ parking lot and toward the ballpark to drop off my stuff I heard footfalls behind me. I turned, and there in the flesh was my white whale, Jeff Francoeur. I stopped him with a “hey Jeff,” and I’ll be damned if he didn’t flash a million dollar smile and say hello.  I asked him if he had a minute and he said he needed to get inside but that I should catch him later.

I dropped my stuff off in the press box and then followed the K.C. Star’s excellent Sam Mellinger into the clubhouse. Sam has a great piece on Francoeur in today’s Star.  So great that I was a bit flummoxed when I read it this morning because it pretty much covered everything I find interesting about the guy so I was at a loss of what I would ask him when I met him.

I went into the clubhouse. Francoeur was sitting in front of pitcher Blake Wood’s locker for some reason, eating.  I figured I’d let him eat while I checked out the scene.  And the scene was relaxed, as all clubhouses have been pretty relaxed.  Maybe it’s just an early spring thing. We’re a couple of weeks from managers really cutting the rosters down so the stress is not yet high. I was in Florida last year a week or so later than I’m here now and things seemed more tense. Other stuff:

  • Lots of talk about Charlie Sheen. One player was telling another that he was going to answer postgame questions with some variation of “winning” for the rest of the year.  I suppose this will get old soon, but it was a big laugh line among his teammates;
  • Pitcher Jesse Chavez was the only player who has anything decorating his locker: a 2008 Topps Heritage card — the ones that look like old 1959 Topps cards — of Robinson Tejada.  I suppose there’s a story there, but Chavez wasn’t around to tell it.
  • Indeed, the clubhouse was a lot emptier than others I’ve seen. Some guys were already taking hacks in the cage as early as 8:30, with is somewhat unusual. One pitcher had his arm all iced up as if he had already done his throwing for the day. Things get going early in Ned Yost’s camp.
  • I scanned the lockers and, though I realize how young the Royals are and know who is on their team, it really is shocking to see so few veteran names. The Indians are the youngest team in the league and they at least have Grady Sizemore and Orlando Cabrera in there. With the Royals you have Joakim Soria, Jason Kendall and the kids. Everyone else with some service time under their belt is more or less a journeyman or a guy who has been up and down from the farm as opposed to anyone who has held a set full-time job on a major league roster before.

And there’s Francoeur. He has been a major league regular. He will be again this year.  He is veteran presence now.  I decided that I’d ask him about that.

I wish I had a juicy quote for you, but I don’t. You probably wish that I had some of my patented Francoeur-snark, but I don’t. We just chatted for a minute about it and he — most likely because I’m simply not that good at asking a question to a ballplayer in a way that leads to a good quote — just explained that, yeah, it’s kind of different being one of the older guys on a team.

It didn’t seem like a big deal to him, though. He seems to know the score. There’s a good chance he won’t be here next year and perhaps because of that he didn’t try to play up the whole be-a-mentor-to-the-young-studs thing. He hopes he can impart some advice to them, but he’s under no illusions that he’s Yoda or anything.

Between Mellinger’s piece and what he told me today, I get the sense that Francoeur is aware that he’s in a transitional period in his career.  He probably knows that if he’s halfway decent this year he’ll get a contract from someone next year. He probably knows that if not, he’ll join the journeyman brigade like so many guys with his skills have done in the past.

The whole conversation lasted, like, two minutes. He was polite and friendly, stopping what he was doing to talk to me rather than sort of talking over his shoulder at me as he fidgeted in his locker like so many guys do.  I don’t talk to many ballplayers, but he was easily the most approachable. If you have to go into a locker room and get quotes from ballplayers every day I can totally see why he would be a guy you’d want to talk to and why so many in the Atlanta and New York press seemed to fall in love with him.  He’s friendly but seems pretty b.s.-free.

All of which makes me pretty ambivalent about the whole talk-to-players thing. At least for a guy like me.  In those two minutes I could see that I would probably like Jeff Francoeur if I worked around him each day. And I can understand that, if you like someone — and if you depend on someone for quotes and stuff — that it may be harder to be critical.  And to be fair, it’s not the job (usually) of the guys who go into the locker room to be critical, it’s their job to report.

But it is my job to be critical. Not personally, of course, and I at least hope I’ve been fair to Francoeur as a person even if I’ve ripped him as a ballplayer. But I do have to be critical of ballplayers and, more often, ballclubs.  There are guys more experienced than I am who can walk that line, working with the players by day and writing sharp stuff by night, but I don’t think I could do it.  Something would give, either in terms of me pulling my punches or the players shutting me out because, on some level, that which we don’t think is personal, ballplayers take very personally.  Their identities are tied up far more in their playing skills than we typically assume.

Having met him, I’m not going to treat Jeff Francoeur the ballplayer any differently than I would have before. But I am feeling strangely contemplative this morning about the whole media-ballplayer dynamic. What do we as fans really want and expect from these guys?  What is someone saying if someone is “great in the clubhouse?”  I have this feeling that the answer to the former has very little to do with the stuff that goes into the latter.  I also have this feeling that the latter stuff doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot.

Sandy Alderson: It’s “highly unlikely” the Mets will non-tender Matt Harvey

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As we noted the other day, Matt Harvey has been terrible since coming off the disabled list. In his last four starts he’s allowed 21 runs, all earned, on 32 hits in 14.2 innings, for an ERA of 13.19. In that time he’s struck out only eight batters while walking seven. It’s fair to ask whether his accumulation of injuries — Tommy John surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome and a stress injury to his shoulder — has rendered him ineffective for more than just the short term.

In light of that, many have speculated that the Mets may not tender the arbitration-eligible Harvey a contract for 2018, making him a free agent. The thinking being that, as he makes $5.125 million right now, he’s going to make at least that and likely a bit more next year via arbitration, even in his diminished state. While many times may accept that for a chance to see if Harvey could rebound, the Mets are not in the habit of spending money they aren’t obligated to spend.

Yesterday Mets Sandy Alderson called b.s. on that, however, telling the New York Post that “it’s highly unlikely that we’re not going to bring him back next year.” The Post story adds this, though it’s unclear if it’s the reporter’s sentiment or that of the Mets:

A significant factor for the Mets, not to be underestimated, is avoiding the potential embarrassment that would come if Harvey were non-tendered by the team and then regained his form pitching elsewhere next season.

The Mets have, in the past, cut off their nose to spite their face in similar fashion. Just this summer they reportedly declined to trade Jay Bruce to the Yankees, sending him to Cleveland instead, despite was claimed to be a substantially better offer from the Yankees. The suggestion was that Mets brass did not want to see their former player helping their cross-town rival, even if the trade would be better for the Mets.

If the Mets, as Sandy Alderson says, legitimately believe that Harvey will rebound, cool: take a $6-7 million chance on him for 2018. It’d be pretty pathetic, though, if they don’t think he’ll be effective again but are simply going to keep him around to keep anyone else from lucking out on an unlikely Harvey rebound.

Either way: I hope Harvey does rebound. When he was dominant he was a special pitcher to watch. Having him return to dominance would be a good thing. No matter who he’d do it for.

 

 

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 11, Twins 3: The Twins took a 3-0 lead, but after that it was all Yankees. Aaron Judge hit his AL-leading 45th home run and crossed the 100 RBI mark. Gary Sanchez went back-to-back with him in the third. Didi Gregorius hit a three-run shot. The Yankees are rolling at just the right time. Or at least that’s what I’m reading everywhere, despite the fact that momentum is a false construct. And despite the fact that, hey, the world is probably going to end on Saturday.

Athletics 3, Tigers 2: Daniel Mengden tossed seven scoreless innings and continued to test my theory that, if they wanted to, sports writers could totally make up names for Oakland A’s players and most of us would nod and say “hmm, OK . . . Mengden.” Marcus Semien homered and drove in three as the A’s swept the Tigers. Who, after a decade or so of being a team full of famous players, is about to enter a period when we could play the same game with their relatively anonymous players as we’ve played with teams like the A’s for so long.

Marlins 9, Mets 2: Giancarlo Stanton hit his 56th homer and drove in three. In keeping with the silly trend of people pretending that passing Roger Maris at 61 would somehow be a significant record as opposed to merely a neat accomplishment, I am going to officially proclaim that Stanton NOW has the home run record. Hey, if subjectivity matters for things like this, so too does my personal subjectivity. The rundown:

  • Ken Griffey Jr. hit 56 twice, but he once used a Bed Bath and Beyond coupon that was expired, sullying it;
  • Luis Gonzalez and A-Rod at 57? They were Freemasons;
  • Four players hit 58 in a season once — Foxx, Greenberg, Howard and McGwire — but that sounds like a law firm, undermining the purity of the accomplishment;
  • Babe Ruth hit 59 and 60, but he purchased alcohol during prohibition, setting a terrible example for lack of temperance;
  • Roger Maris’ 61 was hit in front of a half-empty Yankee Stadium crowd. The Yankees were amazing in 1961 and everyone was talking about him passing Ruth, so something fishy was going on. I’m going to guess radiation contamination on site scared people away and, in turn, powered Maris artificially, like someone in a comic book;
  • That just leaves Sosa, McGwire and Bonds and they murdered all of those people so it’d be wrong to honor them.

Congratulations, Giancarlo Stanton: The Single Season Home Run Champ!

Giants 4, Rockies 0: The Rockies lose their third in a row. Thanks to the Brewers losing too they keep their one-game lead for the second Wild Card, but they really need to cut this out. Brandon Crawford hit a solo homer and Matt Moore and four relievers combined to shut Colorado out.

Red Sox 9, Orioles 0: Chris Sale tossed eight shutout innings and struck out 13. In so doing he became just the second pitcher to strikeout 300-plus batters in a season in the last 15 years, joining Clayton Kershaw. Before that Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson accomplished the feat in 2002 (Johnson also did it in 2001 and 2000 as well). Sale is just the second Red Sox pitcher to do it, following Pedro Martinez, who did it in 1999. Mookie Betts and Deven Marrero went deep for Boston. The Red Sox have clinched a playoff spot.

Phillies 7, Dodgers 5Aaron Altherr hit a tying, two-run homer in the seventh. The Dodgers added a run, so Altherr hit a tiebreaking, two-run single in the eighth. That’s three in a row over the Dodgers for Philly. They go for the sweep this afternoon. The Dodgers have lost four straight and 20 of 25. Their magic number for the NL West remains at two.

Pirates 6, Brewers 4Adam Frazier hit a two-out, two-run, walkoff homer off of Corey Knebel, averting extra innings and giving the game to the Buccos. Knebel’s streak of 21 consecutive save chances converted ended just before that when his own throwing error allowed the Pirates to tie it. We all have a bad day sometimes.

Royals 15, Blue Jays 5: Mike Moustakas broke the single-season home run record for the Royals. But, like I said above, this is all apparently subjective now, so I’m gonna stick with Steve Balboni’s 36 as the true mark, because this:

Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield also went deep as the Royals victimized Brett Anderson for eight runs on seven hits in an inning and a third and rattled off 18 hits on the night.

Cardinals 9, Reds 2Dexter Fowler homered for the third straight game. Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong also went deep, Tommy Pham had three hits and two RBI and Yadier Molina added a two-run double. Luke Weaver allowed two runs in five innings to win his seventh straight start, making him the current active leader in consecutive wins.

Rays 8, Cubs 1: The Cubs seven-game winning streak comes to an end thanks to Blake Snell‘s two-hit, seven shutout inning performance. The Cubs now open a four-game series in Milwaukee. They have a three and a half game lead over the Brewers and can either put them away or give us an exciting last week of the season. So, nothing personal Cubs fans, but let’s go Brewers.

Nationals 7, Braves 3: The Braves had a 2-1 lead heading into the eighth and then the Nats went and put up a six-spot. Three of those runs came on bases loaded walks from Arodys Vizcaino. Maybe Brandon Snitker is a fan of the movie “Tin Cup” or something. I don’t know. I’m just glad I wasn’t feeling well last night and took a NyQuil at 9:30 and missed it.

Astros 4, White Sox 3: That’s six straight wins for Houston. Yuli Gurriel had three hits, including a two-run double, Brad Peacock allowed two runs on only one hit in six innings.

Diamondbacks 13, Padres 7: Hunter Renfroe hit three homers. Wasn’t enough, though, as the Dbacks overcame a 6-2 deficit and scored 11 runs in the final four innings. J.D Martinez, A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and Jake Lamb all went deep for the Snakes.

Indians 6, Angels 5: Four wins in a row for Cleveland who is now 26-1 over their past 27 games. They haven’t lost a road game since August 20. This is just crazy stuff. Francisco Lindor snapped a seventh-inning tie with a two-run homer and  Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Ramirez added RBI singles. The Angels remain one and a half back of the Twins for the second Wild Card.

Rangers 8, Mariners 6Rougned Odor hit a grand slam to cap a seven-run fourth inning and the Rangers held off Seattle. Alex Claudio earned a six-out save. The Puerto Rican native was distracted and worried about his family and homeland in the wake of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria. I have no idea how anyone could concentrate under such circumstances, but he did.