Francoeur Is Destiny, or Contest Over

Let’s see: former Atlanta prospect from the early 2000s, terrible plate discipline, was last decent more than three seasons ago, strong arm, questionable range, reportedly a “good clubhouse guy” despite whining about losing playing time while playing horribly, a right-handed PowerBat (TM) without much power, platoon issues… That’s right, Jeff Francoeur has finally joined Dayton Moore’s Kansas City Royals. Like there was ever any doubt.

Yes, after years of innuendo and longing from far, Bob Dutton tweets that Francoeur will get $2.5 million dollars guaranteed with $500,000 in performance bonuses, and, naturally, a $3 million dollar mutual option for 2012. Dorks in blog comments have been ‘joking‘ about Francoeur’s inevitable reunion with Dayton Moore in KC for years, and now it has finally happened. What is there really left to say? Do we really need to explain that whatever he did five years ago, Jeff Francoeur is a terrible baseball player now? According to my own projections (a modified Marcels), Francoeur projects as a .259/.307/.399 hitter in 2011. That’s a .302 wOBA, or 10 runs below average over 700 plate appearances assuming 2010′s run environment.

Does that seem unfair? Over the past three seasons, Francoeur has actually hit .256/.301/.389 for a .298 wOBA. As an average defensive right fielder, that projection has him at around replacement level, and indeed, over the last three seasons his cumulative WAR rounds off to zero. But it is hard to figure out how good he is in right field. His 2007 performance was impressive, but is also temporally distant. Moreover, it relied heavily on a fantastic arm rating, and baserunners may have been more cautious since then. UZR and TotalZone have seen him as being between average and terrible the last few seasons, whlie DRS and scouts see him as good-to-great. But even if he’s an outstanding defensive outfielder, at the most optimistic he might be a 1-1.5 WAR player. Given the data, I’d say he’s more like an above-average defender, so altogether, once adjusted for playing time, he’s probably more like to 0.5 WAR. That’s about what he’s done each of the last couple of seasons. Assuming five million dollars per marginal win, the contract looks about right.

That assumes that he plays full-time for the Royals. However, while KC’s current outfield of Gregor Blanco, Mitch Maier, and Alex Gordon (I’ll leave aside the possibility that the Royals are going to put Jarrod ‘Outfield Tony Pena Jr.’ Dyson in center field next season) is far from impressive, Francoeur still probably shouldn’t start. He might be a better offensive player than Blanco or Maier (it’s close, my projections actually say he’s worse than either), but given that they are both center fielders, they are probably superior defenders. Moreover, they are both making the minimum for one more season. Granted, neither Blanco nor Maier have significant offensive upside, but do people really think Francoeur is brimming with potential after three years of sub-.300 wOBA performance? It isn’t as if there is an excessive amount of uncertainty with Francoeur, as he’s had almost 1800 plate appearances from 2008 to 2010.

Of course, Alex Gordon hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire, either, and he’s about the same age as Francoeur. No doubt some people think Gordon is no better, and I’m hardly thrilled about his potential for 2011. Over 1041 major league plate appearances from 2008 to 2010, Gordon has hit .242/.337/.402 for a .326 wOBA. That is far from exciting, but it miles ahead of Francoeur. While Gordon’s outfield defense remains a mystery for now, it is highly unlikely that Francoeur’s own skills in the outfield can make up for the offensive difference between the two — I have Gordon as .329 wOBA hitter in 2011, or +5/700 (like Marcel, my projections do not take into account Gordon’s minor league numbers).

One might point out that Gordon, Blanco, and Maier are all left-handed, and Francoeur is a righty who has hit lefties well.. I’ve covered this before, however, and although Frenchy is an above average hitter against southpaws, he isn’t oustanding, and the reduced playing time as the lesser half of the platoon greatly mitigates the advantage.

I could go on about how even though the contract isn’t excessive, that a rebuilding team like the Royals shouldn’t be paying the market rate, especially not for platoon fourth outfielders with little upside. But really, by itself, this signing is no big deal. This isn’t a repeat of the Jose Guillen Fiasco. One pointless $2.5 million dollar contract won’t kill the team going forward by itself. Neither did the relatively small paychecks Mike Jacobs, Horacio Ramirez, Willie Bloomquist, Scott Podsednik, Rick Ankiel, Ron Mahay, or Jason Kendall, at least not considered individually.

And even then, my main point isn’t that it adds up to a lot of money down the tubes (although that is worth mentioning). The point is about Dayton Moore’s front office. Moore and his staff deserve a great deal of praise for assembling a farm system that is not only the consensus-best system in baseball at the moment, but that some are calling the best they’ve seen in years. But we also know that while a good farm system is necessary for a most teams to succeed, it isn’t sufficient. The Francoeur contract is just another sign that Dayton Moore has yet to understand how to efficiently and effectively add necessary extra pieces to a team from the outside.

On the bright side, Royals fans enjoy a victory in at least one sense: with both Francoeur and the man the Mets obtained from from Texas for him, Joaquin Arias, in the fold, and Omar Minaya no longer running the Mets, the Dayton Moore is probably the winner of the long, bitter struggle that was The Contest. There are always new challenges for a champion, of course, and Ruben Amaro (the Phillies were rumored to be pursuing Francouer at the Winter Meetings), Ned Colletti, and newcomer Mike Rizzo all could make formidable foes. With that in mind, take the following two tidbits how you will.

First, the four worst hitters hitters (by wOBA) among qualified players from 2008-2010.

127. Pedro Feliz, .284 wOBA
126. Jason Kendall, .288 wOBA
125. Yuniesky Betancourt, .291 wOBA
124. Jeff Francoeur, .298 wOBA

Now, the least valuable three (qualified) position players by FanGraphs WAR, 2008-2010:

127. Jose Guillen, -1.1 WAR
126. Yuniesky Betancourt, -0.8 WAR
125. Jeff Francoeur, 0.0 WAR

The Royals’ farm system likely makes any talk of “The Contest” irrelevant. Perhaps Dayton Moore will become another Dan O’Dowd, whose skill in building from within somehow manages to overcome questionable decisions on he free-agent market. But these “leader”-boards remind us that there is always a possibility for another Contest to breakout.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

43 Responses to “Francoeur Is Destiny, or Contest Over”

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  1. joeiq says:

    Is he just buying time for the farm to get up to the bigs? I don’t mind Frenchy on the team. Is the issue the commital of a roster spot? Or that he deserved the spot, just less than 2.5M? Maybe 1-1.5M?

    What is the fair price to pay him?

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    • Lee says:

      $50 bucks a day. To carry the bat bags and ham it up in the clubhouse with the team. That would be maximizing his potential and paying him what he’s worth.

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  2. Mike says:

    If he’s as good as a replacement player (a typical minor-leaguer), then you should pay him what you’d pay a minor league callup, which would be around $400,000, I believe.

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    • Anon21 says:

      Isn’t the base salary somewhat artificially deflated, though? That is, we would expect a typical AAA player to get slightly more than that if he were a free agent?

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      • Synovia says:

        Right, but then there’s no reason to hire French if you need to pay him more than what typical AAA player gets paid.

        There are always replacement level players available for that money. Thats what the term means.

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      • KillerBs says:

        Replacement level players are not that easy to find when one third of the league are below replacement level. It’s a myth that they are bountiful in the open market.

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      • Synovia says:

        Where are you getting 1/3 of the league?

        I’m getting 6 players in all of baseball last year.

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      • Synovia says:

        Edit:

        6 qualifying position players.

        If I lower it to 200PA, its about 10% of the league. And a lot of those are because of UZR being a mess at that level.

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      • Neil S says:

        KillerB: Just because a relatively large number of players performed at below replacement-level doesn’t mean that their *true talent* is below replacement. That’s why Matt uses data from 2008-10. On a year to year basis, a lot of people will perform below their talent-level – the proof that replacement-level exists is in the larger samples.

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  3. Phil says:

    RE: Synovia/KillerBs:
    I believe he means that a third of the league is below average, because if you look at the WAR leaders by position (at least for last season, a cursory glance tells me), typically 17-20 will be at or above 2.0 WAR. If that is true, then he is correct that average position players do not grow on trees. Average does not equal replacement level however, and replacement level players by definition are found to be of arboreal origin.

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  4. pounded clown says:

    Phialdelphia sleeps better tonight now that the Abominated One is anywhere but here.

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    • NEPP says:

      Thank God that the Royals swooped in and took Frenchie…I was terrified that the Phillies would sign him to platoon in RF.

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  5. LongTimeFan says:

    A word to the wise from someone with over 4 decades of intense passion for MLB baseball.

    The reason teams like the Phils, Dodgers, Rockies and others continue to have interest in Francoeur is because he has the ability to succeed. He already has and at 26 he’s still a very young man. I shrug in exasperation when I read threads such as this relying on stats as if heaven-sent predicting the future. Human beings are not static, they grow, develop and change and that’s not something any stat can measure, ever.

    Many of you are a lot younger than I and haven’t witnessed enough of these things in baseball and elsewhere to see these processes evolve through maturation. There’s an excellent chance Frenchy .will have many successful seasons in the coming years and that includes power, run production, BA and plate discipline to combine with very solid defense. Francouer was drafted in the first round and a Baseball America 14th ranked prospect in 2005, because he has the ability and delivered in his first two and a half big league seasons. Anyone who thinks A 26 year old, soon to be 27, is washed up, is in need of enlightment.

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    • Neil S says:

      Longtimefan wrote: “Anyone who thinks A 26 year old, soon to be 27, is washed up, is in need of enlightment.”

      If that were the case, you would surely have some examples to give us, right? Because I would love to know how many 26 year-old replacement-level players with below-average bats (and a statistically significant sample of PAs to support those designations) have even managed to become *average* players.

      My guess? Very few.

      Those who think he’s washed-up aren’t in need of enlightenment – they’ve seen the data, and they know that history is not in Francoeur’s favor.

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      • Baltimore Joe says:

        Hey Neil S- what about Garrett Atkins last year for my O’s? He had sucked for the past few years but had that glimmer of past success that enticed our GM’s investment of just a few mil. And look what happened! He… played a few months before crashing and burning out of baseball entirely. Or maybe LTF is thinking of Lastings Milledge. He had lots of glimmers of hope.

        Human potential is unpredictable! Sure, there are Carlos Pena’s and Jose Bautista’s who eventually manage to live up to their potential, but paying millions for what amounts to a human lottery ticket just doesn’t make much budgetary sense the vast majority of the time.

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    • JoeyO says:

      LongTimeFan -RE you theory

      Francoeur might be the most remarkable player in the game, and I’ll show you why

      .272/.310/.521/.832 (.299 BAbip)
      .272/.305/.461/.765 (.300 BAbip)
      .263/.310/.414/.725 (.299 BAbip)
      .259/.313/.379/.692 (.299 BAbip)
      .275/.304/.418/.722 (.299 BAbip)
      .273/.322/.407/.720 (.299 BAbip)
      .268/.310/.426/.736 (.299 BAbip) – Career total

      That is Jeff Francoeur if you adjust each of his seasons to an equal BAbip. And that (after a short, early power spike he was never able to duplicate) happens to be about as consistent as you will probably ever find for a player in the game. For all his time in the league, for all the changes around him, for all the slight differences in his performance – he is basically the same exact player every single year without fail with BAbip being the only true fluctuation he ever sees.

      So even if you believe with 100% of your heart that people are not static over periods of time; Jeff Francoeur is the exception to your rule.

      Jeff Francoeur is the epitome of static; a perfect replay of the same exact crummy production year in and year out without fail. Fielders aren’t always able to field the same amount of his hits every year, but every year his production would be just short of identical if they did…

      FYI – the above calculation does not even take into account IBB or HBP (outcomes which the hitter generally has little control over) and the XBH% adjustment which should be seen when adjusting hit totals. When you factor those three things into the equation as well, its even spookier consistency. Check this out:

      .272/.292/.514/.806
      .272/.289/.463/.753
      .263/.300/.408/.708
      .259/.297/.384/.681
      .275/.292/.417/.709
      .273/.300/.412/.712
      .268/.295/.426/.721 – Career

      Pretty remarkable huh? Outside the early power outburst you have a .260-.275 BA, .290-.300 OBP and .385-.415 SLG almost without fail.

      Jeff Francoeur – your Static-Man!

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      • Paul says:

        How long did you spend on this? Isn’t it obvious that this is satire?

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      • JoeyO says:

        Paul,

        Took all of a min or two. The calculations are pre-programmed into a spreadsheet, all I needed to do is plug his stats. Also, I have long known about Francoeur and his amazing repeating crappy season.

        As far as it being satire, not in the least. In fact, I’m mesmerized you were even able to came to that conclusion.

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      • Paul says:

        Joey: I was referring to the original comment by “Longtime Fan” as satire. Nobody who really believes his comment would even know what Fangraphs is much less use it and comment.

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      • JoeyO says:

        Paul,

        I know what you were referring to, and I am telling you that LongTimeFans post is anything but satire. He honestly believes what he posted, which is why I showed how static Francoeur has actually been the last 6 seasons.

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  6. Frenchy says:

    If wOBA and WAR are so important, then why don’t they put it up on the scoreboard?

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  7. ribman says:

    It’s a bad signing but not a major one, the problem at it’s root ,besides all the statisitical arguments at it’s core it’s a bad signing due to the message Royals fans are receiving. “They still don’t get it” This might be no worse than a dozen other signings of late Bloomquist-Yuni et all but a fan base with the #1 loaded minor league system in the majors, a team ready to break out and make a long awaited run needs to see evidence that their GM can evaluate a major league player and understand somewhat advanced metrics like the other big league team. Dayton Moore is on the verge of trading a CY Young pitcher and we need to have some faith dude can make a good move at the major league level. This signing shows not only does he still not get it BUT he may even do these things to spite the critics of his previous moves. he’s pretty thin skinned.

    The Royals will lead the league in clubhouse karma- we got that going for us

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  8. deadpool says:

    I think the thing that keeps attracting clubs to Frenchy is that feeling that he is one “learned” skill away from being a relatively useful player. We saw early in 10 that a modest spike in patience made a tremendous difference, it’s hard not to hope that one day that patience sticks and all the sudden 2.5-3 looks like a bargain. Don’t think it’ll ever happen, but I can understand the logic.

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    • dustin says:

      Reminds me of the A’s with Bobby Crosby. “As soon as he figures out how to lay off that slider away. . . “

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      • Paul says:

        Yep, guaranteed Bob Dutton article today with three healthy quotes from Seitzer about turning him around, and then reallyhavinsomethin’.

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  9. AustinRHL says:

    One thing that both scouts and common perception definitely seem to get right about Francoeur is that he still has a fantastic arm in right field – in 1070 innings there last year, his UZR ARM was an outrageous 8.8 and his DRS rARM was an even better 10! I doubt that those quite represent his true talent, but I love the idea of a one-win arm.

    Francoeur probably could have been worth the money to a club that knew how to use him appropriately – i.e. in a platoon, where he would be mediocre but good enough – but the Royals don’t seem like the club that would use him that way even though they definitely could with so much left-handedness in their outfield. I also think that people are correct in arguing that with appropriate tutelage, he might conceivably learn some patience and become valuable, although the likelihood is admittedly slim. So yeah, there’s a large likelihood that he’s replacement-level and provides little more than depth, and a small chance that he improves and produces 1.5-2.5 WAR and shuts everyone up. It’s probably a reasonable enough deal.

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  10. Chris says:

    How many times do we have to go over this? ALthough fangraphs just absolutely loves to hate on Francoeur.

    He is an slightly above average defender (basically average range with a plus plus arm) that hits lefties relatively well (career ..346 wOBA).
    Career average wOBA for the three outfielders you mentioned against lefties

    Blanco .273 Maier .323 and Gordon .292

    Although it pains you to admit it but when teams are looking for utility roles, basically the two things they are looking for are ability to play defensive positions well or at least above average (for late game substitution) and also as a pinch hitter to act as a ‘lefty specialist’.

    Francouer fulfills both of those. No team is trying to sign him as a cornerstone of their team or even a starter, so please stop hating on this.

    Also, thanks for giving us your projections. Not really sure why numbers that you made up should mean anything to us.

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    • AustinRHL says:

      That was unnecessarily harsh, Chris. Although I think that this deal was about market value and therefore totally defensible for the reasons you mentioned, there are also a lot of good reasons why this doesn’t make a lot of sense. There’s no scarcity of average defensive outfielders who hit left-handed pitching sort of well (remember that Francoeur’s .346 wOBA still needs to be regressed to a league average platoon split, so his true talent against them is probably lower than he’s shown) – the fact that Francoeur’s WAR for the last three years is 0.0 attests to that, doesn’t it? They should have been able to find an equally able player in the minor leagues or through a minor trade, and paid him the league minimum. For a team like the Royals that will not contend this year, it isn’t particularly a efficient use of resources to pay legitimate money to a utility- or platoon-type player. But it’s even worse than that, because Francoeur insists that his vision is of being an everyday player (which will only reduce his value because he’s below replacement level against right-handed pitching), and it’s fair to assume that the Royals told him that he would be one in order to persuade him to sign.

      Also, as a rather hilarious (if not necessarily misguided) complement to this deal, the Royals have apparently signed the now-infamous and also ex-Brave Melky Cabrera, worth more than a win below replacement level last year and now universally despised by Braves fans, to a $1.25 million deal. I think there’s enough upside to make the contract better than a wash, but it remains highly amusing.

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    • Jason B says:

      “No team is trying to sign him as a cornerstone of their team or even a starter,”

      Are you sure about that? You think they signed him to ride the pine, so he and his agent could do their “I came here to PLAY! I get antsy…I’m no good to anybody just sittin’ here!” routine?

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    • JoeyO says:

      There are two major problems with this.

      1. A non-contender should never pay the weak side of a platoon split multiple millions. Non-contenders shouldnt really even have such platoon players, they should be allowing young players to play against all pitchers so they can learn.

      2. KC does not have a history of signing platoon players – they have a history of signing these types and playing them daily while their youth rides the pine or buses in the minors.

      Until injuries forced a change, the Royals starting OF last season was Pods, Ankiel and DeJesus with Guillen at DH. On the bench/in the minors were Maier, Gordon, Blanco, Ka’aihue and Dyson – all players with more future in the league, making a fraction of the cost, that need the ML experience if they are ever to become the useful parts the team wants them to.

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  11. Jack Str says:

    “The Francoeur contract is just another sign that Dayton Moore has yet to understand how to efficiently and effectively add necessary extra pieces to a team from the outside.”

    Brutal understatement. What the Francouer contract demonstrates is that Dayton Moore HAS NO UNDERSTANDING WHATEVER of “how to efficiently and effectively add necessary extra pieces to a team from the outside.”

    Can’t wait to hear what Rany has to say about this one.

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  12. Paul says:

    My biggest problem with this is also a complaint about Matt’s take on a player: Dyson. I could say that Dyson can actually hit, but then people said that about Pena based on numerous small samples. But really the point is that Dyson really is a plus defender while Tony Pena was not. They should have gone into the offseason planning to play him.

    However, I’m not sure they don’t, because Blanco has a huge platoon split and Maier’s swing would need to be overhauled to hit for any power at all. If all this is is overpaying for a righthanded platoon partner or Blanco in RF, while playing Dyson, I’ll be fine.

    But then there’s the Melky signing… sigh.

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  13. Alireza says:

    Francoeur is a sort of decent platoon option. As noted above, he hits lefties decently and plays what probably comes out in the wash as slightly above-average defense. That’s it.

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    • JoeyO says:

      except he complains if he isnt playing full time, and was just signed to a contract which will pay him more then the other 4 Royals OFers combined. (well, until the Melky signing – now they have two Francoeurs!)

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  14. rick p says:

    Jeff Francouer as an OF>>>>>>>UZR and Total Zone as meaningful metrics

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  15. MoreHR's&LesNorman says:

    This is a minor move. As long as the Royals continue to invest heavily in the draft, int’l, and development, $2.5M to Frenchy isn’t killing the franchise (not helping, but not killing).
    Dayton’s off-season (and ultimately his tenure as Royals GM) really comes down to what he gets in return for Greinke. The return will most likely be the difference between the Royals being an average-good team or a good-great team in the next five years.
    I know it’s hard for fangraphers to resist the temptation to slam Dayton. This move is just hilarious. But if we want to have a serious conversation about the Royals, and where they’re headed…Frenchy is irrelevant. The conversation is about the continued development of the “best system in years” and what Dayton can add to it with the Greinke trade

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  16. Paul says:

    So Bob Dutton’s report on the deal discusses at length Frenchy’s efforts to drop weight this winter. He claims after riding the bench in Texas that it motivated him to get athletic again. I will only note that while his UZR last year was okay, that was mostly attributed to his arm. The range component has been negative for three years in a row, so if he reports 20 pounds or so lighter from the past few seasons and gets the range back to neutral, he could have one of the better UZR numbers for an everyday RFer.

    Will the weight drop result in him hitting at all? Probably not, but he might be able to beat out a few more ground balls or go for three a couple more times next season. Bill James projects a turnaround from last season, which appears to be mostly a regression to the norm for his BABIP.

    The scary thing is that it’s quite possible he regains his athleticism and actually be worth the contract while still being a totally craptastic player.

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  17. Chris says:

    I don’t think you are being fair to Omar Minaya. You said it yourself: HE GOT FIRED. He won. Plain and simple. It doesn’t matter what feats of idiocy Moore performs after The Contest is over. It’s like saying that the Soviet Union could have won the space race by putting a bigger rocket on the moon in 1974. It isn’t a contest any more, it’s Dayton Moore in Cake’s ‘the Distance’.

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  18. JoelQ says:

    Francoer has produced 5.8M in free agent value. So maybe the contest is over, but Moore wins?

    Actually he’s a pretty good fit for the team.

    1 year deal incase Wil Myers is ready next year
    RH bat to complement Gordon, Moustakas, and Hosmer – you got to figure they are already good against RHP. (by KC standards)

    He was worth over 2M last year and is averaging 5M a season.

    I know it’s early but he doesn’t seem that lucky. Babip is in line with career. HR/FB is up slightly but still only 10%.

    Not to mention he is a great clubhouse guy!
    And he sells jersies in France maybe.

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