November 10, 2010

What about Ben Francisco?

For many people, the Philadelphia Phillies' most glaring need in 2011 is in right field.

I've seen names like Magglio Ordonez, Aaron Rowand, Matt Diaz and Jeff Francoeur thrown around already. All of these guys have upsides. Ordonez had an OPS+ of 130 last year, his best since 2007 and second-highest in seven years. Rowand would come cheap (San Francisco would have to eat most of his contract to move him) and he'd bring some well-known fire and leadership to the clubhouse. Diaz has a .907 lifetime OPS versus left-handers, perfect for a platoon. And Francoeur...well, he hit 29 homers once!

There are also many negatives. Ordonez will be 37 in January and probably command a relatively substantial salary. Rowand's best year as a Giant was .271 with 13 homers...three years ago. Diaz's OPS+ the last four seasons: 123, 50, 132, 99 (although he does appear to be the best fit of the bunch). And Francoeur is terrible.

And then there's Ben Francisco.

In 2009, Francisco's last full-ish season, he put up a .257/.332/.447 line. Not particularly impressive, but against left-handed pitching, he's .267/.347/.460 lifetime. That's in no way Jayson Werth-ian (who actually had a lower OPS versus lefties in 2010, .881, as compared to .937 vs. RHP) but it's reasonable for a hitter in the six/seven hole. A career OPS+ of 105 can be made to work in right field.

But no one seems to consider him a realistic option. Everyone wants to swap him out for a new name, a shiny toy packed with unknown potential. I see the allure in that. But when people are suggesting Jeff Francoeur, JEFF FRANCOEUR, a player we've seen devolve before our very eyes in the NL East, a man with a career .310 OBP, it's time to take a step back and reassess.

This isn't an offensive team anymore. It's a team built around three aces -- Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels -- designed to win games 4-2, not 7-5. That doesn't mean offense should be ignored, but it should be addressed appropriately. Jayson Werth's numbers won't be replaced, at least not by conventional means. It'll take either a gigantic move or some creative thinking to get "acceptable" offense out of right field. I think that kind of production could be quietly, but effectively, produced with Francisco on the right side of a strict platoon.

If Ruben Amaro Jr. finds the means to make a big splash, either in free agency or through a trade, more power to him. I know Francisco is a middling choice, a stopgap until a better player can be found. I also think he's A) under team control and B) a reasonable hitter and baseball player, certainly able to fill one-half of a platoon, either with Raul Ibanez or Domonic Brown. Wouldn't the team be better served by taking that money previously earmarked for right field and using it to pursue another top bullpen arm, a strong lefty to replace JC Romero's oft-shaky work in later innings?

If the Phils are set on upgrading, or rearranging in the outfield, what would I prefer Amaro to do? Well, my dream is a trade for Andrew McCutchen. He's the centerfielder in Pittsburgh, a budding superstar who the Pirates might not be able to pay. CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury has batted around the idea of a Dom Brown and prospects for Cutch swap, which might be too much for either team to handle. But Cutch is a great leadoff hitter, a right-handed bat, a dynamic player and a sure thing, unlike the still-developing Brown. If he couldn't ignite what some people are calling a stagnating offense, I don't know what could.

McCutchen, Polanco, Utley, Howard, Rollins, Ibanez, Victorino (in right), Ruiz. If there's a better 1-8 in baseball, I haven't seen it. So, Ruben Amaro, rather than negotiating dollars and cents with Matt Diaz, give Neal Huntington a few calls. An "upgrade" over Francisco won't make or break the 2011 season.

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