Kansas City Royals Photo Day

A Requiem for Jeff Francoeur

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Joe Posnanski looks back at the illustrious career of the recently-DFA’d Jeff Francoeur and pretty much groks the essence:

Jeff Francoeur is one of the greatest guys in baseball. Everybody thinks so. He’s always smiling. He’s always friendly. On the field, he always tries. Lord, he tries. Runs out those grounders. Throws home with gusto. Off the field he’s always doing something cool like signing an autograph or chatting up a kid or appearing at a charity event or helping a teammate or talking to a young reporter who was nervously looking for someone to talk with. When you’re a kid, you might imagine how you would act as a big league ballplayer — and you would probably be imagining the life of Jeff Francoeur.

Well, you probably would imagine yourself a better hitter — which is the real life part of the story.

There’s a part of the Francoeur mythos that goes “the media loved him so they talked him up big all the time and overlooked his weaknesses.” And there is a lot of truth to that. But the media didn’t sign him to contracts, trade for him or give him far more plate appearances than he deserved over the years. That was on the Braves, Mets, Rangers and Royals. Certainly professional teams aren’t dazzled by a great personality and thus fooled into poor baseball decisions, are they?

I don’t think so. Rather, I think teams are victims of a different kind of delusion. The delusion of a breakout performance like Francoeur had as soon as he was called up in 2005.

Francoeur has stunk far more than he’s prospered, and the reason he’s been allowed to do so is because — at least in my opinion — good first impressions outweigh the bulk of one’s performance as far as baseball evaluators are concerned. Some of them — at least the ones who pulled the trigger on Francoeur — are prejudiced to assume that only great players can break out big, so Francoeur must be a great player struggling rather than a poor hitter who just lucked into some occasional greatness.

If a player with Francoeur’s same skills, such as they are, stumbled poorly for about 3,500 plate appearances to start his career he’d never get a chance to shine in those 1,000 plate appearances in which Francoeur did. Heck, he’d not even get the 3,500. But ooh, that chance of promise! It’s like plunking money into a slot machine you just saw pay off. That’s basically what GMs and managers have done with Francoeur since 2005.

But, contrary to my headline, I doubt it’s actually time for a requiem. Someone is gonna, once again, look back at how he did for a brief spell eight years ago and the half-season blips he’s had on occasion, assume that that — as opposed to the huge number of plate appearances in which he has been terrible — is the “real Jeff Francoeur” and sign or trade for him within the next week. You just know it.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.