07/10/2009 8:00 PM ET
An egging most baffling
Francoeur acquisition difficult to explain
By Ted Berg / SNY.tv
Jeff Francoeur has a .282 on-base percentage whether the scoreboard says it or not. (AP)

About a month ago, when things really started to crumble for the Mets, I wrote this:

If the Mets trade for Jeff Francoeur, I'm out. I'll find someone else to write this column.

Egads. Maybe I jinxed it. Maybe the Mets are fundamentally jinxed. I'm here, so I haven't quit quite yet, but some small part of me hopes someone holds me to that statement.

I was mostly kidding because I didn't think the Mets would do something like that; I didn't think the front office could be so silly as to think Jeff Francoeur might be the answer to any single one of their questions.

Egg on my face.

I can try to reach at Francoeur's upside and what he brings to the table over Ryan Church, the man he was dealt for, but it's beyond my outstretched arms. He's five years younger than Church, so there's that. Oh, and he stays healthy enough to remain in the lineup so he can cost his team wins.

Cost his team wins, you ask? How could that be possible for a guy we heard so much about a few years ago, when he burst onto the scene with the Braves in 2005?

Check it out: According to Fangraphs.com, over the past two years, Francouer has cost the Braves about two wins that they could have recouped with a replacement-level (read: easily available) right fielder. That's not a difficult thing to do when you're a starting corner outfielder in the Major Leagues with an on-base percentage below .300.

About that: In case you're unfamiliar, Francoeur is one of the very few players to bravely speak out against getting on base, one of the very fundamental elements of scoring runs.

"If on-base percentage is so important, then why don't they put it on the scoreboard?"

Gahhhh. Argh. Yikes. F@#!

I don't like to make assumptions about causal relationships that I cannot prove, but smart money says when a hitter makes it clear to Major League pitchers that he's not at all interested in taking pitches, Major League pitchers will respond by never, ever throwing him anything to hit.

Just look at what's happened to Francoeur over his career: He busted into the league with an .884 OPS in 257 at-bats in 2005, but he only walked 11 times in that span. Since then, his offensive numbers have been on a pretty steady decline. It's not really rocket science; when you swing at everything, the book gets out quickly. Soon your power numbers dwindle, as Frenchy's have, because you're not getting so many pitches to drive anymore.

Eventually, you plummet to the depths of a .634 OPS in 2009. .634! Zero point six three four. That's actually worse than everyone in the Mets' lineup Friday night not named Argenis Reyes.

Hard to see how that's an upgrade.

Oh and that guy he's replacing? I'm not punching Church's ticket to the Hall of Fame, but he's at the very least a Major Leaguer. He's having a down year, for sure, but a down year after putting up competent big-league numbers for large parts of the last four seasons.

And a down year, I might add, that's significantly better than Francoeur's. I could even suggest that Church's 2009 struggles have been due to injury woes, but that can't be the case with Francoeur. Not with that guy Kevin Burkhardt just called "an Ironman."

What else? You've probably heard by now how Francoeur is a great defensive player. That used to be true, but in 2008 and 2009, according to both UZR and Bill James' plus-minus, Francoeur has been at best only an average right fielder due to his lack of range.

Church, on the other hand, has been good in the field, both by the metrics and by the human eye. Church has also demonstrated the ability to play center field, something the Mets have absolutely needed since Carlos Beltran went down. Francoeur played three innings there in 2006, but since he's a right fielder with diminishing range, I wouldn't bet on seeing him succeed in center.

So what's the plan there, exactly, until Beltran gets back? Angel Pagan? That guy who's never had more than 170 at-bats in a big-league season and who has spent most of the last two seasons on the Disabled List? Awesome. I hope you're stretched out, Cory Sullivan.

Ah yes, "plan." What is the plan here, anyway? Is this a move to get younger in the hopes of competing in the future? I would at least see the purpose there, but man, if that's the idea, I'd rather acquire someone unproven than someone who is steadily declining. Also, according to Cot's MLB Contracts, both Francoeur and Church have two arbitration years after this season.

So that means the Mets are gambling on Francoeur turning things around and becoming a better player than Church in the next two seasons. And yeah, he's only 25, so in theory he should be getting better. But in theory, he should also like to be walked.

The only possible explanation I can really think of for the deal is perhaps the most unreasonable: That Jerry Manuel and/or the Mets' front office actually didn't like Church for some reason and felt some urgent need to part ways with him.

I've been getting e-mails from readers all season suggesting that was the case, and I've been responding to and dismissing every one. I tell them it only looked that way, and that I'm sure it's just something fans have been spotting since Manuel -- I thought inadvertently -- insulted Church's offense in Spring Training.

Maybe you were right, Frank. What do I know?

Egg on my face, part deux.

I usually try to provide at least a glimmer of optimism, but I'm struggling now. All I can really offer is that I've been very, very wrong about Mets' moves in the past, and that baseball is a strange and sometimes unpredictable game and crazier things have happened.

Like that behind-the-back pass Daniel Murphy completed in Wednesday's game. That was weird, right? It was awesome, and Mark Loretta was called out so we have to credit Murphy for the play. But would anyone bet on that happening again?

I wouldn't. I try to make smart bets. And I would hardly wager anything of value on such long odds, especially when all the evidence points against them ever paying off.

Maybe I'm missing something big here. Either way, I'll probably come back for more on this soon.

Yeah, I'll be back. I always come back. This is, I guess, what it means to be a Mets fan.

Egg on my face.

Ted Berg is the senior editorial producer for SNY.tv. He can be reached at tberg@sny.tv or via the Flushing Fussing Facebook group.
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