Braves deal Francoeur to Mets for Church
Atlanta completes trade of slugging outfielders with rival
DENVER -- As the past few months came and went, there was growing indication that the Braves may never find a team willing to provide even a marginal return in exchange for Jeff Francoeur.
But that was before the Mets called this week and proposed a deal to swap a pair of outfielders who both seemingly needed a change of scenery.
Just a few days after recognizing the fourth anniversary of his celebrated Major League debut for his hometown team, Francoeur was given the revelation that his days of playing in Atlanta had come to a close.
A few hours before the Braves played the Rockies at Coors Field on Friday night, manager Bobby Cox called Francoeur into his office and told him that he'd been traded to the Mets in exchange for Ryan Church.
To make up for the slight difference in the players' salaries, the Braves also sent approximately $250,000 to New York.
"You imagine getting traded," Francoeur said. "But you don't imagine getting traded to your biggest rival. The hardest thing to think about right now is coming back to Atlanta next week with the Mets."
With his voice cracking, Francoeur spoke about how weird it will be to emerge from the All-Star break next Thursday and find himself playing right field for the visiting club at Turner Field.
When he homered in front of the hometown fans during his July 7, 2005, big league debut, Francoeur seemingly started a storybook career that appeared destined to conclude in Atlanta.
But while hitting .243 with 16 homers, a .290 on-base percentage and a .357 slugging percentage since the start of the 2008 season, Francoeur displayed declining skills that led the Braves to start attempting to deal him before last year's All-Star break.
Looking to right himself during this past offseason, Francoeur sought the assistance of Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. But while hitting .250 with a .634 OPS this year, he didn't provide the Braves enough reason to believe he was going to regain the promise he showed in 2006, when he ended his first full Major League season with 29 homers.
"Jeff and our staff worked hard to improve his offense, and obviously he went outside the organization to seek additional help," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "He probably needed a fresh start to see if he could get it going again."
With Francoeur gone, the Braves will likely platoon Church and Matt Diaz in right field. Diaz will also continue to occasionally spell Garret Anderson in left field.
The left-handed Church has hit .282 with an .822 OPS in his career against right-handed pitchers, and .245 with a .683 OPS against left-handers.
Church's splits have been even more telling this season, as he's hit .310 with a .784 OPS against right-handers and .167 with a .414 OPS in 48 at-bats against southpaws.
"We like the way he plays the game, and we think he brings some things to our team that we need," Wren said.
Church, who is expected to join the Braves in time for Saturday night's game against the Rockies, was also surprised to learn of this trade. But there has been wide-range speculation that he'd long ago fallen out favor with Mets manager Jerry Manuel.
"I'm just looking at it as a new start," Church said. "They've got a great organization in Atlanta."
Church's best Major League season came in 2007, when he hit .272 with 15 homers and 70 RBIs in 144 games with the Nationals. With the Mets for the first 42 games of the 2008 season, the 30-year-old outfielder hit .311 with nine homers and a .534 slugging percentage.
Church's promising start was derailed by a concussion he suffered while sliding into Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar's head during a May 20 game at Turner Field. In the 115 games he's played since then, he has hit .265 with five homers and a .362 slugging percentage.
"He's a good ballplayer," Cox said. "He's always caught your eye."
While Church certainly isn't a superstar, he's seemingly a player that could draw more interest than Francoeur did on the trade market. But for now, the Braves aren't providing any indication that they're looking to deal their new right fielder before the Trade Deadline arrives at the end of this month.
Francoeur said that he's looking forward to the challenge of playing in New York. While the media scrutiny will certainly be much greater, he will be able to play without the pressures that he faced in Atlanta, always trying to live up to the great expectations that he created during his storybook athletic career at Parkview High School.
"Frenchy was one of the kids you didn't think would be traded," Chipper Jones said. "Maybe a change of scenery will do him some good."
One of the most likable members of the Braves clubhouse, Francoeur said goodbye to his coaches and teammates and took time to tell some media members that he truly enjoyed the opportunity to play in front of the Braves fans.
"I've had nothing but great experiences," Francoeur said. "Nobody can ever take that away from me."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.