Jeff Francoeur

Royals go overboard in re-signing Jeff Francoeur

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Pay no attention to the mutual option behind the curtain.  From the day it was dreamed up, it had virtually no chance of being exercised.  What were the odds that both team and player thought said player would be worth exactly $4 million in 2012?

On Thursday, the Royals and Jeff Francoeur both decided the 27-year-old outfielder was worth well more than that.  They agreed to a two-year, $13.5 million extension that locked up the former Brave through 2013.

The dollar amount figures to cause a great deal of hand-wringing.  Francoeur is a polarizing player with his popularity and athleticism and occasional offensive outbursts never completely obscuring the fact that he’s a career .269/.312/.430 hitter.

This year, Francoeur has been considerably better.  Playing for his fourth team, he’s hit .277/.329/.463 with 15 homers and 66 RBI.  He’s also set a career high with 19 steals, nearly matching his total of 23 from his first 5 1/2 years in the bigs.  He’s still made more outs than all but seven American Leaguers, but he rates as an above average offensive corner outfielder for the first time since his rookie half-season of 2005.

One very important thing to remember here is that Francoeur is just 27.  He should have a few more prime years in front of him.  Since he’s 27 and not 30, it’s more likely that his 2011 performance represents real growth.

But this is also Jeff Francoeur we’re talking about.  He always talks a good game.  Every spring, he talks about how his plate discipline is going to improve.  And it usually does for a few weeks in March and the first week in April before he goes back to hacking away.  Francoeur has walked 34 times versus 94 strikeouts this season.  He’s on pace to break his previous career high of 42 walks.  However, he’s already used 462 at-bats in getting 34, so discipline remains a big issue.

Also, Francoeur has truly been above average only the quarter of the time he gets to face left-handers.  He’s batting .315/.379/.602 against southpaws this year, compared to .266/.314/.421 against righties.

Now, that .735 OPS against righties this year isn’t bad at all.  But a little bit of overall regression would be enough to turn him back into a liability against the majority of major league pitchers.  For his career, Francoeur has an .841 OPS against lefties and a .704 OPS against righties.

That’s where the deal falls apart for me.  Even this new and improved Francoeur wouldn’t be anything more than the sixth- or seventh-best regular on a contender, and there’s a realistic chance that the Royals would be better off with Lorenzo Cain in center and Melky Cabrera in right next year than with Cabrera in center and Francoeur in right.

On the plus side, the $13.5 million won’t kill the Royals.  They’ve lopped enough off their payroll over the last year that $6.75 million per year will be pretty easily absorbed, and while it may cut into the budget a bit, spending that kind of cash on such a well-liked player could actually make them a more attractive destination in free agency this winter.  They just need to target better players than Francoeur next time they open their wallets.

Tigers to give Omar Infante some work in center field this spring

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Omar Infante #4 of the Detroit Tigers follows through on an RBI single scoring Prince Fielder #28 during the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field  on September 11, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
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Veteran Omar Infante has spent the overwhelming majority of his career as an infielder, but the Tigers plan to give him some playing time in center field this spring. The Tigers’ center field situation is still murky and adding more versatility would increase Infante’s odds of making the roster.

Infante, 35, signed a minor league deal with the Tigers in December. He played 39 games for the Royals last season, batting .239/.279/.321 in 149 plate appearances while playing second base exclusively. Infante last played in the outfield in 2010 with the Braves, and last played center field specifically in ’09 with the Braves.

The Tigers currently have Mikie Mahtook, Tyler Collins, and JaCoby Jones at the top of their center field depth chart. It is not what one would call “optimal.”

Report: Orioles close to acquiring Vidal Nuno from the Dodgers

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 30:  Vidal Nuno #38 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Texas Rangers in the bottom of the seventh inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 30, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles are close to acquiring pitcher Vidal Nuno from the Dodgers in exchange for pitcher Ryan Moseley.

Nuno, 29, went to the Dodgers from the Mariners in the Carlos Ruiz trade this past November. He and the Dodgers avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $1.125 million salary for the 2017 season. The left-hander finished the 2016 campaign with a 3.53 ERA and a 51/11 K/BB ratio in 58 2/3 innings spanning one start and 54 relief appearances.

Nuno will provide the Orioles starting pitching depth and could serve as a valuable left-handed option out of the bullpen.

Moseley, 22, played his first season of professional baseball in the New York Penn League last year. In 12 relief appearances, he put up a 3.20 ERA and an 18/9 K/BB ratio across 19 2/3 innings. The Orioles selected him in the eighth round of the 2016 draft.