By now you've surely read the article about Jeff Francoeur's off season. How he had a "terrible" year last year. How he worked hard this winter. How he's talking comeback.
The blog-approved reaction is snark, snark and more snark. With a side of snark.
Yet I can't do it.
Spring is about renewal and optimism. Yada, yada, yada... But there's a measure of truth to my cliche. If spring didn't exist, we would have abandoned this team a long, long time ago. Seriously, what would be the point? Even the most jaded of us hold a tiny sliver of optimism. You have to. Otherwise you would root for the Yankees.
However, don't confuse optimism with delusion. I'm not selling the idea that the Royals will compete for the pennant. I haven't felt that way since... Damn, I don't know how long. Rather, for me spring represents the hope that things will get better. It never happens for us, yet it's about the possibility. The possibility that things can improve. The possibility that, with a few lucky breaks (like Justin Verlander running off with Kate Upton and ditching baseball to manage her photo shoots) the Royals could find themselves in a position to win. Maybe somehow Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas fulfill their potential this year. Or perhaps Wade Davis solidifies the rotation. Whatever. You get the point.
(Yes, I'm aware this sucks. I'm basically going into every season with the hope that this is the year the Royals start to look like something resembling a competitive - and competent - team. This is what 25 years of awful baseball does.)
A new season means new possibilities. We're Royals fans, so we know many of those possibilities will hit us over the head with the subtlety of Ken Harvey attacking a tarp. Yet we return. Every year. We are the Wack-A-Mole of baseball fans.
A bizarre staple of spring, the "best shape of his life" and "new approach" stories are roundly mocked. I've been part of that charge in the past. Hell, one year I got on the bandwagon myself. Maybe The Process has beaten me down, but I just can't get bothered by these stories anymore. They're not worth the energy. Besides, I'm not the target. Beat writers have a much larger audience than those of us who reside in the dark caverns of the internet. That's why I can't muster the outrage - or the snark - of Jeff Francoeur looking forward to 2013.
If I'm truthful, I want Francoeur to succeed. Yet success is relative. We're much more likely to get a .300 wOBA from him than a .330 wOBA. And neither one of those numbers is good.
Should I mock that he used Alex Gordon as his wingman? Why would I do that? Some (like Gordon) are self-motivated when it comes to things like working out. By all accounts, the guy is a machine. Others (like Francoeur) may need a little push to get into the weight room. If it took a text message from Gordon to motivate him to lift some weights, what do I care? Will it do any good? Hell if I know. I do know that after the -2.3 fWAR he posted last year, an early jump in his off season conditioning program couldn't hurt. However he pushes himself.
Apparently, Francoeur is going to use a bigger bat this season. He thinks it's going to take some of the loop out of his swing. I suppose there's humor to be found in that, but again, I can't be bothered. Not now. Sure, this is the boilerplate "making adjustment" story we find every spring, but can Francoeur challenge the Bell Corollary where we never say we've hit rock bottom? It's difficult to imagine anyone putting up a worse season than his 2012, but if a team is going to give him every opportunity, it's the Royals. We're the lucky ones. We're going to find out. Can an extra ounce in the bat add 50 points to his wOBA? It's insane to think that. Yet, I can appreciate that he's attempting something different, even if I'm skeptical as to its potential for success.
As a fan, I would be disturbed if Francoeur blamed someone or something for his abysmal 2012. Or if he openly didn't care about his performance. If he said he didn't change a thing in his off season regimen because it's worked for him in the past, I'd be ticked. Instead, I'll give him credit for recognizing his 2012 was awful (even by the numbers of his career) and for taking steps to avoid a repeat. Even if a repeat is more likely to happen than any kind of serious improvement. I realize it's likely I'm being fed (and buying) a wheelbarrow full of crap. He will ditch the new bat after his first three strikeout performance and will still run around the outfield like he has a piano strapped to his back. And he will almost certainly run the bases like a one-legged pirate on quaaludes. I understand how this works. It doesn't bother me that he's confident his new approach will help. Even if I don't think it will.
The legend of Francoeur has grown throughout his time with the Royals. The bacon, the pizzas, the $100 for beer. Now his wife is having Five Guys delivered to the clubhouse. How can you not root for people like that? Maybe I'm crazy (don't answer that) but the Royals have employed a bunch of bad baseball players over the last 20 years who were also miserable human beings. No need to rehash, we lived through it. Yet as I root for Francoeur, I know I'm pulling for what is essentially a lost cause. (The ballplayer, not the person. Excessive nut taps and all, he seems like a good guy.) In eight seasons he's accumulated over 4,700 plate appearances with a line of .266/.310/.426 and a grand total of 10 fWAR. He is 29 years old. There is no longer potential. There is fact. And the facts are unkind.
This is OK. I accept that Francoeur is the Royals right fielder. It's not anything I can control, so why should I get angry? That doesn't mean I think he's the best candidate. I'm fairly certain that based on the current roster construction the best Royals outfield has Lorenzo Cain in right field and Jarrod Dyson in center. Yet Francoeur has someone who believes in him as a ballplayer. And as a person. And that belief trumps common sense.
As usual, the most offensive comments in the article belong to management. We have
Frank Ned Yost telling us he's a "proven major-league producer" and that Francoeur had "a great year for us the year before."
First of all, Francoeur had a decent year in 2011. For Jeff Francoeur. It was a wholly average season when put against the universe of all major leaguers. But for Francoeur, it was his best season since 2007. So there's that. Then the "proven" part of the comment... Francoeur has a 1.8 fWAR over his last five seasons combined. There's something "proven" we can discern from that number, but I'm not sure it's positive. Yost is treating Francoeur's 2012 season as an anomaly. When the true anomaly was 2011.
Then there's our good friend Dayton Moore. The Royals GM tells us his right fielder "can't have a year like last year." Wow... That's really good to hear. Makes me think Francoeur is on the short leash, so to speak.
Then Dayton tells us he's "confident Francoeur is going to have a very good year." Fine. The GM believes in his player. And as we've noted in this space many times, even if he didn't believe in his player, he doesn't need to unload in the press. Support your guy.
"I know he's going to show up to play."
Uh-oh. I have that feeling in my stomach that I get when listening to Adele.
"He's going to bring a presence and a winning attitude to our team."
Gack. This... this pisses me off. The General Manager insults his team's fanbase with a regularity that is breathtaking.
You see, it's not Jeff Francoeur that's killing this team. It's the General Manager who keeps signing guys like Jeff Francoeur. The brilliant Twitter account Francoeur Facts isn't about the ineptitude of a ballplayer. It's about the ineptitude of the man who continues to employ him.
Yes, I do want Francoeur to succeed. I do root for him to come through in a key situation. I take no pleasure in the failure of one of the players on my favorite team. And contrary to what some may think, I hope I'm wrong about Francoeur. I hope he kicks ass, becomes a baseball ninja and is an All-Star and emerges as an MVP candidate. Yet I know that the odds of that happening are the same as me winning an Academy Award for film editing. Still, I hope.
Spring is for bloggers, too.
So I'll give Francoeur a pass for now. I'll let him have his moment of hope that he can finally turn his career around and will be a productive major league ballplayer. Knowing full well that by April 14, I will have seen enough undisciplined plate appearances, enough free outs on the bases, and enough bad defense to last the remaining five and a half months. All the workouts and heavier bats in the world can't change what we already know. He is who he is, but I appreciate the effort.
But I will always blame Dayton Moore.