Jeff Francoeur

Jeff Francoeur is in The Best Shape of His Life

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He doesn’t utter the words, but when you have a story that spends multiple paragraphs on physical conditioning, change in diet and references to body fat percentage, all as a means of excusing last year’s poor performance and promising better performance in the coming year, you have captured the very essence of BSOHL.

I’m not gonna blockquote it. You have to read the whole thing to believe it. Not because of any specific passage, but because of how clearly this story is an apologia for Francouer’s shortcomings in 2012 and — as we’ve seen basically every year of his career — a rah-rah piece containing quotes about how he’s gonna turn it around in the coming season and assertions about how he’s too talented not to return to form, even if his good years are the aberration and his poor ones more the norm. I mean it: with the possible exception of last spring, every single year there is a story from someone in either Atlanta, New York or Kansas City talking about how Francoeur is poised to finally fulfill his promise and ascend to superstardom, as if it were preordained.

This edition of the story has it all: it has weight room talk, diet talk, swing-tinkering talk, change in bat weight talk, “gonna prove the naysayers wrong” talk. The whole deal. If he were a pitcher it would have something about a change in mechanics and pitch-tipping, I’m sure.

And like I said above: that’s what the BSOHL stuff is really about. It’s not about shape per se. It’s about optimistic spring training stories which serve as a basis for explaining away poor performance and raising expectations for better performance. Often as a player is either hitting free agency or entering his walk year. In this piece we have an almost perfect example of the form, applied to the player the meme was born to describe.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

Braves 2
Associated Press
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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.