Wondering where — or even if — right fielder Jeff Francoeur fits in the Royals’ 2013 plans?
So is he.
Francoeur knows better than anyone that outfielder Wil Myers, the organization’s top prospect, is in line for a long look next spring, if not sooner, and realizes that look is likely to be in right field.
But Francoeur also understands baseball’s financial realities: He is under contract next year for $6.75 million and is battling through a disappointing season that, barring a significant surge in the closing weeks, will make him difficult to trade.
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“I don’t know what direction they’re headed or what they’re planning,” he said. “The way I look at it is I’m under contract for next year. So whether it’s here or somewhere else, I plan on being ready to go.”
Club officials are generally mum in public on such matters. General manager Dayton Moore says the look-ahead evaluation process is ongoing, which is true enough, but this much seems clear:
The Royals are quite willing to trade Francoeur, individually or as part of a package, but show little inclination to simply eat his contract and/or accept little in return.
Club officials are disinclined, at this point, to hand a starting job to Myers — in right field or anywhere else — as they form offseason plans. They are, however, far from opposed to seeing him win a job in spring training.
“You just never know with young players,” one club official said. “Wil Myers is having a great season at (Class AAA) Omaha, but there are things he still needs to work on. He still chases too many off-speed pitches. Up here, that will get exposed in a hurry.”
Another club official said: “Think about this: As good as Myers has been, and we think he has the potential to be a very good player for years to come — maybe an All-Star — he hasn’t overmatched Triple-A the way (Eric) Hosmer did before we brought him up.”
Left unmentioned are Hosmer’s current struggles.
Myers once seemed in line for a late-season promotion, and that might still happen, but it’s no longer a certainty.
Club officials point to several factors, including the chance for him to play in postseason games at Omaha, which has already clinched its division pennant. But the bigger issue centers on roster concerns.
The Royals are already wringing their hands at the number of prospects eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft if not placed on the 40-man roster. One top club official estimated a dozen players are under consideration for what might be three or four spots.
Myers doesn’t require protection until after next season. Promoting him for a handful of games — or even all 39 remaining games — would force the Royals to burn one of those 40-man roster spots. Is that really necessary? Or smart?
This view, which seems to be gaining traction within the organization, argues Myers can still come to camp next spring, as a nonroster player, and compete for a job.
“You have to ask yourself,” a club official said, “is it worth the risk of maybe losing a guy who might be our 10th-best prospect in order for (Myers) to play 20 games this year in the big leagues?”
The Royals’ rough blueprint, entering the season, was for Francoeur to hold space for Myers through 2013. That made sense; Francoeur resurrected his career in 2011 while Myers battled through a disappointing year at Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
The algorithms changed when Francoeur tailed off sharply while Myers produced a breakthrough summer in the upper minors. As the Royals move forward, much depends on whether they believe Francoeur, still just 28, can bounce back.
Francoeur is, as usual, confident he can recapture that form.
“Absolutely,” he said. “This year has just been a mess the whole way around.”
Francoeur admits he lost focus and, even now, he isn’t sure why or how.
Hitting coach Kevin Seitzer’s theory is that Francoeur — and Hosmer, too —were poised to recover from poor starts but, whenever things started to improve, each often pushed harder to accelerate that recovery, which proved counterproductive.
Francoeur is already targeting two offseason goals: build strength in his lower body without adding bulk and eliminate the bat wrap from his stance.
“For me, I’m very confident for what I’m going to do next year,” he said. “I’ve told Ned and Dayton that. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, I know I’m going to have a big year next year.”
One club official offered the following scenario:
Francoeur comes to camp next spring as the incumbent, but Myers gets a legitimate opportunity to win the job. Any job, actually. Circumstances —say an injury —could result in Myers, whose skills include versatility, winning a starting job elsewhere.
Right now, though, right field seems the likeliest fit. If Myers clearly —clearly — proves to be the better option, the Royals then evaluate what to do with Francoeur, i.e., can he be a backup? Can he be traded? Should he be released? Etc.
Otherwise, Myers heads back to Omaha, and Francoeur opens the season in right field but does so on the clock. Whenever club officials judge Myers to be ready for regular big-league duty, he returns and plays regularly — somewhere.
“Hey, I love playing here, Francouer said. “I’ve told Dayton and Ned that I hope I’m in right field next year on April whatever when we open the season.
“But I do understand they’ve got decisions to make. They’ve got young kids to evaluate.”
One in particular.