The San Francisco Giants made a move which had been speculated about for weeks on Tuesday morning, signing 29-year-old outfielder Jeff Francoeur to a minor league deal. Francoeur will report to Triple-A Fresno and is expected to be recalled once he gets enough at-bats and fielding experience to feel comfortable.
Francoeur is nowhere close to being considered a difference-maker at this point in his career; however, he is almost certainly an upgrade over Cole Gillespie, who was recalled last Friday and is currently 0-for-9. Francoeur will be the next man the Giants attempt to use as the right-handed hitting complement to Gregor Blanco in their platoon system, which is intended to fill the absence of Angel Pagan.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of both this move and the decision to recall Gillespie is that the Giants are too afraid to take a chance on any of their young outfielders. Juan Perez was by no means overwhelming, but he did provide great defense, and both Gillespie or Francoeur cannot be realistically expected to put up significantly better numbers at the plate.
In addition, the Giants have their 2010 first-round pick, Gary Brown, sitting in Fresno waiting for a shot. Though he is once again struggling after a torrid month of June, it would seem reasonable for the team to give him a shot if they think he’s at all a major league-capable player, especially during a time when they are giving outfield at-bats to career minor leaguers such as Gillespie.
At bare minimum, Brown would provide a better defensive option in center field than anyone besides Blanco.
The Giants also have 26-year-old outfielder Roger Kieschnick at Fresno, and their recent moves do not show much faith in him. Kieschnick is on the 40-man roster, yet they have continually passed him up in favor of other players. He has often been lauded for his power-hitting ability, and has 18 doubles, 9 triples and 11 homers this season for Fresno.
But when asked recently about Kieschnick, manager Bruce Bochy simply said that he needed more time. It does not seem to make sense, however, that an organization would continue to keep a player on their 40-man who 26-years old and in their second Triple-A season if they are not good enough even to be given a shot at the bigs.
Ultimately, Francoeur cannot be counted on to provide much of a boost. He is more of a known quantity, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. He has hit under .250 in three of his past four seasons, and was hitting .208 in 183 at-bats before being designated for assignment by the Kansas City Royals last month.
He is constantly talked about as being one of the worst-fielding outfielders in baseball, and had a -14 fielding runs rating last season. Though he will probably be less noticeably bad since he will be playing in left with the Giants, no one should be expecting a defensive upgrade over Andres Torres.
That being said, there is always the possibility that “Frenchie” could revert to his old form. He had a very good year for the Royals in 2011, hitting .285 with 20 homers. He hit 29 home runs in 2006 for the Atlanta Braves, and has hit at least 10 homers in every season up until this year.
So at the very least, he should provide somewhat of a power threat. Francoeur should be reminiscent of an older, slower version of Kieschnick, and it’s worth wondering if he will take Kieschnick’s 40-man spot when he’s added within the next few weeks.