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.