Like every other team in Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians employ numerous players throughout their organization, from the big-league club in Cleveland to their rookie league team in Arizona and beyond. And like every other Major League franchise, the Indians add and subtract from this player pool on a regular basis. This irregular series will serve to post notice when a former Indians player has done something noteworthy with a quick look back at the player’s time in Cleveland.
Player: OF Jeff Francoeur
Current Team: San Diego Padres*
Year(s) in Indians Organization: Signed as a free agent by the Indians on January 6, 2014; appeared in 13 spring training games before being released by the Indians on March 22
Why He Still Isn’t in Cleveland: Some of you might not remember Francoeur’s short time with the Indians, which is understandable given that his tenure with the Tribe lasted only a few spring training games.
As a non-roster invitee to spring training with the Indians, Francoeur faced an uphill battle in making the Tribe’s 25-man roster from the time he signed. Obviously, minor league contracts have worked in the past (for the Indians and for other teams), but Francoeur was released at the end of spring training and given an opportunity to find playing time with another team.
Francoeur, also known as “Frenchy,” played well in limited spring training action with the Tribe, hitting .286/.359/.429 with a home run and 10 RBI in just 39 plate appearances. However, the Indians already had plenty of outfield depth in their organization, and later decided another non-roster outfielder (the recently-released Nyjer Morgan) was a better fit for the Opening Day roster.
Frenchy wasn’t on the market for long, and ultimately signed a minor league deal with the Padres just 3 days later.
What He Did: Francoeur spent most of this season with San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate in El Paso, hitting a solid .294/.325/.465 with 15 long balls and 60 runs driven in across 416 plate appearances.
His impressive showing with the Chihuahuas (the awesome name of the Padres’ El Paso affiliate) earned him a promotion to San Diego, though he hit a derisory .083/.179/.083 with 1 RBI in 28 plate appearances with the Friars.
It should be noted that 28 plate appearances is an incredibly small sample size, but it doesn’t change the fact that Francoeur simply wasn’t good in his brief time with the Padres. Despite playing in just 10 games with San Diego, Fangraphs estimates that Francoeur was worth 0.3 wins below replacement level. That’s not good.
The rebuilding Padres eventually decided that they could give Francoeur’s at bats to a younger player who could have a long-term future in the organization. As a result, the team designated him for assignment on Monday to make room for outfield prospect Rymer Liriano.
At the time of doing so, San Diego had 10 days to either trade, release, or outright Francoeur to the minor leagues. But at the time of this writing, the Padres had already used the first of those days, meaning that a resolution on Francoeur will come in the next 9 days.
What Does the Future Hold: Francoeur is a former top prospect, and was ranked as high as 14th on Baseball America’s annual prospect list prior to the 2005 season. After an impressive first 3 major league seasons with his hometown Braves, Francoeur’s career suddenly began to spiral out of control.
Despite being valued at 7.2 wins above replacement level from 2005-2007 (according to Fangraphs), he has been valued at a combined 1.3 wins BELOW replacement level since — and that includes a surprising 2011 season with the Royals, in which he was worth 2.5 wins above replacement.
Since his tenure in Atlanta, Frenchy has appeared in games for the Mets, Rangers, Royals, Giants, and Padres, in addition to his spring training tenure with the Indians. He’s bounced around the league, and unfortunately hasn’t been able to regain the form that made him one of the most exciting young players in baseball at the beginning of his career.
But even though it seems like he’s been around forever, Francoeur is still just 30 years old. As I’ve mentioned before, teams love taking chances on former top prospects, especially when they’re still young, so there’s still hope for Frenchy.
It’s pretty unlikely that he’ll ever completely return to being the player he was in his early 20s, but he still has plenty to offer. He’s dealt with the scrutiny of being a top prospect. He knows what it’s like to be a successful major league player. He’s appeared in parts of 10 seasons in the majors, so he comes with experience. He also has one of the best outfield arms in baseball.
Besides, there’s still a chance (albeit a small one) that his bat could come around as well. He hit well with the Indians this spring and with El Paso, and while the competition level of spring training and the hitter-friendly nature of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (which El Paso is part of) question his success, he at least showed that he’s still capable of hitting.
To me, it doesn’t seem likely that the Padres will find a trade partner for Francoeur, meaning that they’ll likely either release him or try to sneak him through waivers. Either way, there’s a decent chance he could hit the open market, since he’s already been outrighted and has the right to reject a minor league assignment in favor of becoming a free agent.
As such, I envision Francoeur becoming a free agent in the next few days, and it shouldn’t take too long for him to find a new minor league contract. There will more than likely be a team out there that will try to catch lightning in a bottle, and even if they can’t, they won’t have made a big risk in signing him in the first place.
Notice a player you remember being in the Indians organization? We’re ever-vigilant, but sometimes we miss guys, too! Send us an email at [email protected] and let us know which former Indians farmhand or player is making noise elsewhere.