It was a swap of right fielders within the NL East who were both in desperate need of a change in scenery. Ryan Church and Jeff Francoeur were firmly entrenched in their managers' doghouses, with no way out. Both teams were so anxious to rid themselves of their incumbent right fielders that they were willing to make the deal inside their own division.
“I think we got a young player who had been very productive," commented Met General Manager Omar Minaya at the time of the trade, “but for whatever reason he has fallen on hard times. We feel he could lift his game enough to be an important part of our lineup.” And despite the fact the Mets had already fallen out of the race, Francoeur did indeed lift his game to the tune of a .311 batting average with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs in just a little over 300 at bats.
New York Mets
“I came here in a funk because quite honestly my confidence was shaken. But Howard Johnson and Jerry Manuel assured me they believed in me and unlike the Braves, they worked on keeping me aggressive but with better pitch recognition at the plate, whereas in Atlanta they were merely concerned about my low walk totals,” says Francoeur. All it took was one or two batting practices to see that the new Met acquisition was never going to be a walks machine but better hitting counts would help him fully take advantage of his powerful stroke.
He also embraced the change of scenery off the field as playing in Atlanta was not all it was cracked up to be. “It is so funny but when I came to New York I liked the fact that I did not have to deal with all of the hometown stuff I had to deal with in Atlanta. New York is such a big place and there are so many distractions here that you could get lost in the crowd,” says Francoeur.
Maybe you could get lost in New York but in the Met clubhouse, Francoeur quickly became the most popular personality in there, befriending almost every player in short order. Frenchy (as he is known to his teammates) made it a point to spend time with Angel Pagan, for instance, when the Met center fielder was subbing for Carlos Beltran last year. He is the organizer for many of the club’s social events like an outing to watch the U.S.-Canada Olympic gold medal game with just about the whole team in spring training.
“I am just a big kid," says Francoeur, “and I am a sports junkie whether it is the NCAA tourney, college football, or whatever. Baseball is such a long season and you have to have fun or it will eat you alive. Last year, I think we felt so beaten down we hung out to lift each other’s spirits with all of the injuries. This year, we know we will be better and because of what we went through together last year we are stronger but more importantly, we are hungry. And it is nice to be in a clubhouse full of hungry players.”
That hunger is obvious when you enter the Met clubhouse and that secret sauce has been missing in there since 2006. These Mets have a ton of issues to conquer but team chemistry is not one of them. In fact, the closeness of this team could be a huge factor in snapping losing streaks because this is a room full of players who are not afraid of taking accountability or holding the mirror up to other players who may not be pulling their load. And it was not always that way in the Met locker room.
Players like Jeff Francoeur have allowed that to happen and more importantly, will allow players like Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, who are not comfortable with the role of being a leader, to let their playing do the talking. Yes it was just a simple swap of right fielders, but it may turn to be a horse trade that will have far reaching implications for the 2010 Mets.