Never has a team fallen so far, so rapidly.
Jeff Francoeur is making his third career start in center field as the Giants take on the Brewers in San Francisco tonight. His other two both came last year with the Royals, when he played 16 innings and somehow never had a ball hit his way. Or, at least, was never able to get in the way of all hit in his general direction.
Francoeur also played three innings in center field for the Braves in 2006, and he actually did handle a chance flawlessly, at least according to his career stats. Visual evidence of this phenomenon has long since disappeared.
What’s doubly amazing is that Francoeur is playing center field with a right-hander starting against the Giants tonight. Maybe one could justify getting his bat in there against a lefty, but Francoeur has typically been significantly worse against right-handers in his career. Just not this year, when he’s been equally abysmal against everyone (.560 OPS against righties, .565 OPS against lefties).
Alongside Francoeur tonight will be Roger Kieschnick in left and Hunter Pence in right. Kieschnick never played an inning of center field in the minors, which apparently ruled him out. Pence started 95 games in center for the Astros in 2007, but he’s played exclusively in right field since. He’d still be a better option than Francoeur in center, but at AT&T Park, many believe it’s harder to play right than center.
Francoeur is hitting .234/.250/.277 with no homers and four RBI in 47 at-bats since being called up by the Giants. He’s scored one run in 15 games.
Over the past several weeks we’ve heard a lot of news about teams furloughing front office and scouting staff, leveling pay cuts for those who remain and, most recently, ceasing stipends to minor league players and releasing them en masse. The message being sent, intentionally or otherwise, is that baseball teams are feeling the pinch.
The Kansas City Royals, however, are a different story.
Jon Heyman reported this afternoon that the Royals are paying their minor leaguers through August 31, which is when the minor league season would’ve ended, and unlike so many other teams, they are not releasing players either. Jeff Passan, meanwhile, reports that the Royals will not lay any team employees off or furlough anyone. “Nearly 150 employees will not take pay cuts,” he says, though “higher-level employees will take tiered cuts.” Passan adds that the organization intends to restore the lost pay due to those higher-level employees in the future when revenue ramps back up, making them whole.
While baseball finances are murky at best and opaque in most instances, most people agree that the Royals are one of the lower-revenue franchises in the game. They are also near the bottom as far as franchise value goes. Finally, they have the newest ownership group in all of baseball, which means that the group almost certainly has a lot of debt and very little if any equity in the franchise. Any way you slice it, cashflow is likely tighter in Kansas City than almost anywhere else.
Yet the Royals are paying minor leaguers and front office employees while a great number of other teams are not. What’s their excuse?