What Might Have Been

What Might Have Been

What Might Have Beenblack t shirt

Try not to think about what might have been, cause that was then. And we have taken different roads. Those are lyrics from the song What Might Have Been, by the country band Little Texas. Please excuse me, as I have listened to this piece of music several times since I heard news of the Atlanta Braves trade of Jeff Francoeur.

Several weeks ago, I actually wrote an article claiming that it was time for the Braves and Francoeur to go their separate ways, in hope that each party could find true happiness and success apart. That was my head talking. The part of me that wants what is best for the Atlanta Braves and their playoff chances. I never thought about the bond that had been formed between Frenchy and the Atlanta area.

Francoeur had lofty expectations placed upon his shoulders when he debuted for his hometown team in the summer of 2005. That season was supposed to be the year that the Atlanta Braves string of division titles came to an end. It was a transition year of sorts, with Atlanta integrating several rookies into prominent roles with their club. However, with instant contributions from the likes of Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Langerhans, Wilson Betemit, Pete Orr, Kyle Davies, and Francoeur, the team took the National League East crown for the 14th consecutive year. The group of youngsters were labeled the Baby Braves.

McCann and Francoeur were the two that became instant fan favorites, Jeff even more so than Brian. The two had played traveling ball all over Georgia together since they were 12 years old. They played against each other a few times a year in high school, and remained close friends. When the 2002 MLB draft rolled around, both were highly regarded and Atlanta targeted both local products. The more celebrated player was clearly Francoeur, by some scouts estimation a 5 tool player, and the Braves snatched him up with their first round selection, 23rd overall. When their second round pick rolled around, they were pleased, if not astonished, that McCann was still on the board. Without hesitation, Atlanta took the catcher from nearby Athens, Georgia. Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann were teammates once again.

Francoeur and McCann rolled very similarly through the minor leagues and were called up within a few weeks of each other. While they were both successful, Frenchy always seemed to cast a shadow over B-Mac. Jeff had the undeniable presence of a superstar. He was a good looking, athletic outfielder with a cannon for an arm, and a smile that drove the ladies wild. As recent as a few weeks ago at Turner Field, females wore more Francoeur jerseys and shirts than all other Braves players combined. Meanwhile, McCann was the pudgy, red headed catcher, whose face seemed to always be hidden behind his catcher’s mask. Not exactly the most marketable guy in the world.

Beyond the celebrity appeal for Francoeur, and lack thereof for McCann, Jeff did put up better numbers when they both burst on the scene in 2005. Before I present some of these stats, I must inform you that Francoeur had 77 more at bats in his rookie season than McCann. In that campaign, Francoeur hit .300, which was 22 points higher than McCann. Frenchy also hit 9 more homeruns and drove in 22 more runs than Brian. As previously mentioned, those numbers helped contribute to another postseason birth and took Braves fans on a new kind of ride. One that involved many new and exciting, young faces.

That rookie year led Francoeur to many titles, that recently have been used to mock him. Most famously, Sports Illustrated put him on the cover, deeming him “The Natural.” As Bobby Cox started him all 162 games the following season and watched him hit 29 homeruns and drive in 103 runs, local media outlets began labeling Jeff the “Goldenboy,” in that he could do no wrong. It seemed that Jeff Francoeur was born to be an Atlanta Brave. Perhaps the old saying “love is blind” is true, for no fan of the Braves could have ever seen that the honeymoon would end. Not only did it end, but the Jeff Francoeur train ran completely off the tracks and we were all left to cover our eyes, trying not to look.

Many people point the start of his demise, as well as his loss of endearment from the Braves fan base, to the offseason before the 2007 year. The Braves, impressed by the play of both Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur, offered both long term contracts that bought out their remaining arbitration years. McCann quickly accepted the 6 year, 27.8 million dollar offer. However, Francoeur did not accept the long term deal that the front office had presented him. I am only speculating, but it would seem likely that the dollar figure probably would have trumped McCann’s by a few million. For an organization that for the past fifteen years saw players take less money to come play for Bobby Cox and the Atlanta Braves, fans of the team looked down at Francoeur’s rejection.

All of the contractual frustration was set aside in 2007 when Francoeur managed to raise his batting average 33 points, although his power numbers did drop. Apparently the decrease in homeruns that year weighed on Jeff’s mind. In the offseason he reportedly put on 20-25 pounds, hoping to improve upon his power stroke. As frequently documented, it backfired on him terribly in 2008. Francoeur’s performance at the plate was completely abysmal and culminated with a July 4th demotion to Double A, Mississippi. Francoeur let it be known that he was very upset about being sent down, and after a couple of timely injuries, the Braves were forced to recall the struggling Francoeur. His complaining of the demotion only further alienated him from fans and members of the front office. He finished the year with a .239 batting average and what once seemed to be a match made in heaven, began to look like an inevitable nasty divorce.

Francoeur slimmed back down prior to this season, attempting to regain the form that had endeared him to so many across the south. It did not work. His average was only a few points higher, however he was slugging for an even lower percentage than he was last year. Frank Wren and John Schuerholz had simply seen enough. They could not continue to allow Bobby Cox to pencil Francoeur, in the midst of a two year slump, into an already anemic lineup. Atlanta shipped him to the first club that offered any sort of Major League ready player in return. Oddly enough, that team happened to be a divisional rival, the New York Mets. A lifelong Peachtree state native to the Big Apple. Francoeur better perform if he wants any rest in the city that never sleeps.

How did we get here Jeff Francoeur? The hometown hero. The next face of the franchise. Goldenboy. The Natural. No one could have known you would play your way out of town before your 26th birthday. Now there are only two Baby Braves left, and without a doubt, your departure has been the most devastating blow. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. The stars never were meant to align for such a sharp demise. The smooth, charismatic right fielder has taken his act to New York, and the plump, red head, whose face remains behind that catcher’s mask, has become the face of the Atlanta Braves.

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