July 26, 2009

Adam Krohn: Baseball not for Francoeur

The Atlanta Braves’ Frank Wren is one of the major league’s more creative general managers. Always thinking outside-the-box for ways to improve his team, he kept coming back to the same question in his head: “How can I put Jeff Francoeur in the best position to help us win?”

Francoeur, the 25-year-old homegrown talent from Gwinnett County’s Parkview High, had been in steady decline the past two seasons with the Braves. He turned in his worst performance as a big leaguer last season, batting .239 with just 11 home runs in 155 games. 2009 wasn’t any better for him despite showing promise in spring training. Through 82 games with Atlanta, his on-base percentage, .282, was worst among everyday outfielders in all of baseball.

Wren was stumped for the answer to his question until finally, one day earlier this month, he started to chuckle. He had figured out the answer: Trade him within the division so the Braves can face a sub-.250 hitter 20 games a year. Just like that, Francoeur was off to the Mets.

Now, it is possible Francoeur could respond like a true competitor and make the Braves pay for trading him. In 11 games with the Mets, he’s hitting .333 with two home runs. But so what if he’s off to a hot start with a new team? Is it time to put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated again?

My point is his average will level out eventually, and the Mets will be stuck with the same undisciplined, incompetent hitter the Braves got rid of. So much in the way Wren was creative in making Francoeur better for the Braves by trading him, Francoeur must get creative in making himself a better professional athlete by trading sports.

Francoeur should quit baseball right now. He’s still got four years of college eligibility remaining, so why not take up Clemson on its scholarship offer and start a career in football? 

Remember, Francoeur was a better football player than baseball player, and guided Parkview to back-to-back, undefeated state championship seasons in 2000 and 2001 as a defensive back/wide receiver. The only reason he didn’t become a Tiger is the Braves offered him a $2.2 million signing bonus out of high school.

Think about it, the knock on Francoeur the baseball player is he’s too aggressive at the plate. He doesn’t have the patience to wait for a pitch he can hit. He just wants to hit now, hit hard and knock the cover off the ball every time he’s at the plate.

Call me crazy, but that sounds like a football player’s mentality to me. 

At 25 years of age, if he leaves for college football now, he’ll already be a more developed athlete than his peers on the football field. And he’s not too old that he couldn’t hang with the competition. If he can parlay his aggression and frustration on the diamond into hard hitting on the gridiron, he should make a very good football player. No doubt, he’d make a better football player than baseball player.

Look at Chris Weinke. He played in the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league organization for six years before accepting Florida State’s offer to play football. Not only did he compete at a high level despite being away from the game for so long, but he also won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship. And guess how old he was when he returned to football? 25 years old, same as Francoeur.

If Francoeur walked away from baseball today, he will have already made about $7 million. So he’s come out on top from that perspective. Why not walk away from a game that you — at least from an outsider’s perspective — don’t appear to have the passion to want to play or get any better at and go do something you love to do?

Can you imagine the hype surrounding Francoeur should he play college football? If he lived up to the hype, he’d be a lock for a first-round pick in the NFL draft. Or, if he didn’t want to go the college route, he could help the United Football League — which needs all the marketability it can muster — get off to a fast start.

Go ahead, Frenchy. Your scouting report hasn’t changed since you got to the big leagues in 2005. You can keep converting those low and away breaking balls into double-play grounders while getting booed by 45,000 at Citi Field, or you can move on to your true calling.

What are you waiting for? The gridiron is calling for you.

Adam Krohn is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. You can write him at adamkrohn@daltoncitizen.com or follow him on twitter @adamkrohn.