March 24, 2016
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Jeff Francoeur wanted to clear one thing up before his Atlanta Braves gave way to his 2015 team, the Phillies, for pregame batting practice on Thursday night at Champion Stadium at Disney’s World Wide of Sports: he does not owe Maikel Franco a suit.
The bet, which the Phillies third baseman has not forgotten, was that the veteran Francoeur promised the rookie Franco that he would buy him a new, custom-fit suit if he reached 15 home runs last season. Franco went on a tear last year, of course, and was among the best rookies in an impressive class of first-year players in 2015.
When Franco broke his wrist on Aug. 11, he led all rookies – in both leagues – with a .828 OPS and .490 slugging percentage (min. 300 plate appearances).
And he had 13 home runs.
Since the wrist injury held Franco out for all but three games for the remainder of the season – he returned for the final series of the season, hitting one home run in eight at-bats – Francoeur decided to adjust the bet.
“I think things got a little miscommunicated,” Francoeur said with a laugh. “I think what I’m going to do instead of a suit – because he didn’t hit 15, you’ve got to get 15 – I’m going to get him a couple nice dress shirts. …. I’ll get him taken care of. I see him calling me out with the suit and I’m like, you didn’t hit 15, bro. The last time I checked a bet is a bet.”
Francoeur, one of the most popular players in a young, impressionable Phillies clubhouse despite spending just one season with the team, has kept tabs on his former teammates, including Franco, this spring. Franco has seven home runs, two more than any other major league player this month.
“With what he’s doing this spring,” Francoeur said, “I think he’ll be able to afford his own shirts anyway.”
Francoeur, meanwhile, is hoping to make the most of a minor league contract with a rebuilding team for the second straight spring. After signing on with the Phillies, making the big league roster out of camp and sticking all season, Francoeur was back on the free agent market this winter and ended up back with the team where his career started.
It’s also where he’s from. Francoeur was happy to be in the NL East last summer because it meant three trips home to see his wife and his two kids, who are now 3-years and 5 1/2-months old.
“Hopefully, in the end, it’s all going to work out,” said Francoeur, who is hitting .308 (12-for-39) with one home run in 15 games this spring. “With the two kids, being able to be home. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Philly. Obviously, last year giving me the chance to do what I did. I appreciated that. It’s fun seeing all those guys. They’ll have a big fan in me, I promise you that.”
After spending just 10 games in the major leagues in 2014, playing for the majority of the season at Triple-A Albuquerque, Francoeur was able to re-establish himself last season with the Phillies as a useful big league bat. He hit .258 with a .718 OPS, 13 home runs and 16 doubles in 119 games.
He had discussions with Phillies management on returning toward the end of the season. But then the offseason arrived, along with a new general manager, and then a waiver claim for another right-handed hitting veteran outfielder (Peter Bourjos) and a Rule 5 pick that brought in a second, right-handed hitting outfielder (Tyler Goeddel).
“Obviously, you’ve got to move on and do what you’ve got to do,” Francoeur said.
Like more than a few other familiar names – Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Domonic Brown – Francoeur didn’t land a job until mid-February via a minor league deal. But he has no hard feelings with how this winter played out (and even this spring, with the Phillies suddenly in need of outfielders with a rash of injuries) and only fond memories of Citizens Bank Park and his friends on the other side of the field Thursday at Champion Stadium.
“It’s gone good here,” he said. “I’ve played well. Last year having the year I did was big for me, especially from a confidence standpoint. I came to camp saying I don’t deserve to be on a minor league deal. I had some GMs tell me that that I know real good, but it’s just how it kind of shaped up this year. You can either sit here and gripe or go out there and play and do what you have to do.”