Jeff Francoeur, by most accounts, has had a decent career over his 11-year stint at the majors; but at age 29, Francoeur appears as if he no longer is capable of being a productive everyday player in the big-leagues. Francoeur signed a three-year contract worth 16 million dollars with the Kansas City Royals during the 2010 off-season and has seen his production decline every year that he has spent with the organization.
In 2010, his best season with the Royals, Francoeur hit .285 with 20 HR and 87 RBI in 153 games played, but last season Francoeur’s numbers dipped to a .235 batting average with 16 HR and 49 RBI in 148 games. This season, Francoeur hasn’t gotten off to a much better start, as he has struggled out of the gates hitting .234 with 25 hits, one HR, nine RBI and 28 strikeouts over 107 at-bats. While those stats may have been acceptable when the Royals were losing 100 plus ballgames a year, they no longer can be tolerated since the team has now established themselves as legitimate contenders for a playoff spot. As a result, the team’s patience with Francoeur’s struggles should be thin.
The Royals are off to a hot start with a record of 17-12, in large part to the impressive performance of their rebuilt pitching staff which centers around James Shields. With a rotation that has the potential to be one of the better rotations in the division, the offense must now do their part in order for the Royals to remain in contention. Despite the struggles of Mike Moustakas and a slow start by Eric Hosmer, the Royals have found a way to produce enough runs to win ballgames during the early portion of the year and have even shown signs of being a very potent lineup; however, this may not be the case the entire season if they don’t get more production from players like Francoeur.
The question that the Royals must ask themselves is: are there any other legitimate options out there that could produce more than Francoeur currently is? In my opinion, the answer to that question is yes. Francoeur currently is in the last year of his deal and he is making 7.5 million dollars which is a gross overpayment considering how little Francoeur has produced this season. Moving him via trade may be difficult because few teams would want to take on his salary and lack of production. In addition, I do think Francoeur could have some value as a fourth outfielder on the Royals while also serving as an injury replacement for any of the Royals’ other outfielders. As a result, I believe a demotion to the bench would be best suited for all parties involved and one possible replacement is currently waiting at Triple-A Omaha. That player is David Lough.
Lough,27, is by no means a youngster, but he is currently hitting .353 with 41 hits, three HR and 16 RBI in 116 at-bats over 28 games at Triple-A and deserves a chance to play at the majors. Lough or Jarrod Dyson could benefit from an extended opportunity to play at the majors on a daily basis and the Royals could find another player who could contribute more to their offense than Francoeur has. Lough, in particular, can really hit, has good speed, and can play all four outfield spots which, I believe, is enough for him to get an opportunity to prove himself in the majors. If Lough can stick, he can provide a cheaper option in the outfield for the Royals or could platoon with Dyson for the foreseeable future. Francoeur could then serve as another outfield option or a late-inning pinch hitter for the Royals if they choose to keep him around.
Any way I look at it, I think the Royals would be a better club without Francoeur in the lineup on a daily basis. The team has gotten off to such a great start that it’d be tough to see them throw it away by not putting their best lineup on the field. While it may not seem like a pressing issue right now, I believe that Francoeur’s shortcomings will soon be magnified and exposed and it could cost the Royals valuable victories as the season wears on.