Saturday, July 5, 2008

Oh, the times are a'changing

I don't post for over a month and suddenly, the Braves grow some testicles? Who knew?

Well, if you have been living under a rock the past few days, the Braves decided yesterday to option struggling right-fielder Jeff Francoeur to Mississippi and purchased the contract of little-known Jason Perry from Richmond. The team then went out and finally won, ending a streak of five straight loses. Granted, it was Houston the Braves defeated and the ancient Brian Mohler, but a win is a win, right?

Sending Francoeur down was definitely a changing of the guard. A very un-Schuerholz type move, especially in recent years. The Braves often refused to make tough decisions with their own players, including who to give up on, who to demote, and who to eliminate. Well, the latter would be breaking the law, but still, it's a tough decision.

But this decision has in a way renewed my faith in my team. That faith has, I admit, been wavering as I witnessed their consistent inability to win games and seem to give a damn while they did. Chipper Jones was battling for icon status and the team just never seemed to care to get better around him.

Francoeur's decision can go one of three ways.

The first is the one I most doubt. Francoeur not getting better as a byproduct of this decision. Francoeur has been hyped since day one as the Natural, the Franchise, the Golden Boy, and whatever bullshit label in the book. Now, he's simply Mississippi's starting right fielder. For the first time in a few years, he has to take a step back personally and professionally. Second, he's been pretty abysmal so he has to get better. At the time of his demotion, he was hitting .234/.287/.374. To put that number into context, in 1991, Rafael Belliard hit 249/.296/.286. Essentially, Francoeur was a roided up Rafael Belliard. Francoeur is not going to be a great player, but he is better than that.

Another way the demotion could go is to jumpstart the team. Sometimes, just showing you have the balls to make a tough decision lights a fire under a team. I doubt that any fire lit after the demotion will continue to burn beyond a few games, but it might be enough to get the team to springboard into the second half.

A third way this demotion could impact the team is that at least for the Braves starting right fielder, it might help him finally make long-term adjustments. Since his promotion in July of 2005, Francoeur has seemed to always take a step forward and then another back. He hit dominated after his promotion in 2005, but struggled in September. He hit 29 homers in 2006, but posted a .293 OBP. He came close to doubling his walk total in 2007, but his power slumped to 19 homers. This year, he talked a big game about 30 homers and 20 steals. He was on pace for 15 homers and had yet to steal a base successfully. Francoeur's fall from grace is complete. He has been humbled. Now he has to get better because the Braves have shown baseball that they think he's flawed, too.

I think he will get better, but again, I don't think he is much better than league average. But right now, with this pisspoor outfield the Braves are putting out, league average would be a vast improvement.