“The Natural’s” name is circulating in trade rumors?
Oh, how the tide has turned.
When Jeff Francoeur broke in with his hometown Braves in July of 2005, he was instantly labeled the next Chipper Jones. He was touted the “golden boy” that was going to help usher the next wave of top tiered Braves talent into Atlanta.
Francoeur or “Frenchy,” as he is affectionately referred to by his teammates and Braves faithful, got off to a monster start. He hit a 3-run home run, which was his first major league hit, in his big league debut. He ended up hitting .300 with 14 home runs and 44 RBI in 67 games his rookie season, which helped him finish 3rd in the Rookie of the Year balloting.
In the midst of his hot streak came numerous accolades, including the infamous August 2005 cover of Sports Illustrated where Francoeur was referred to as “The Natural.” What at the moment seemed like a precursor for a successful major league career, now seems like the beginning of a nightmare jinx that seems to have followed the Braves right fielder.
Francoeur’s fall from grace was about as quick as his rise to fame. In July of 2008, mired in the worst slump of his career, Frenchy was demoted to AA Mississippi to work on his swing in an effort to improve on his unsettling .234 batting average.
To say Francoeur’s stock had fallen was an understatement.
A move like this by Braves management was unprecedented and sent shockwaves throughout the city of Atlanta. A team that is known for being fiercely loyal and supportive of their players even during the hardest of times was sending a message to their young outfielder.
No one, not even “The Natural,” is untouchable.
Francoeur was recalled to the majors just three days later after a series of Braves injuries, but his slump continued and he ended the season with a .239 average.
Coming into the 2009 season, many around baseball viewed this season as Francoeur’s turning point with the Braves.
How much longer was Atlanta willing to be patient?
It seems we may have our answer.
In 66 at-bats this month, Francoeur is hitting a miserable .197 with a .214 on-base percentage and a .273 slugging percentage. On the season he is hitting just .259 with only 3 home runs. The decrease in power from Frenchy is startling and has severely stunted production from the Braves outfield.
Yes, Francoeur is only 25, and yes, there is still a great chance he could rebound and find the stroke that garnered him such praise early in his career.
However, for the Braves and Frenchy, a change of scenery could be in the best interest of both parties.
Atlanta may choose to explore possible trade options for Francoeur with the deadline approaching in July. But with his stock so low, could the Braves even get a decent return at this point?
Shocking to even ponder such thoughts but it’s something the Braves brass may have to do in order to improve their sputtering offense and allow them the opportunity to stay in contention for a playoff spot this season.