There comes a point in a fantasy owner's life where he wakes up in the morning, takes a good long look in the mirror, and starts to ponder exactly where things went awry. Typically this happens sometime around midseason, when the owner's team is scraping the bottom of the league and the can't-go-wrong strategy that he employed in his preseason draft ended up going horribly wrong after all. Sometimes you just have to reevaluate things and perhaps concede to yourself that you aren't the fantasy genius that you thought you were.
We're now three days into the fantasy season and already I've found myself facing this sad moment of self-rumination. It happened the second I found myself picking up Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur off of the free agent wire. I feel that by admitting this act in a public forum, I'm getting a lot off of my chest. This should be therapeutic.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Frenchy's travails, let me enlighten you. He was once a Braves wunderkind and one of the hottest prospects in the land, and his rookie season in 2005 was so impressive that he almost walked away with the Rookie of the Year award despite playing in only 70 games. On first glance, he looked like a star in the making, but there were problems under the surface. Namely, that he swung at everything and would have seemingly rather eaten a bag of dog doo than taken a walk. To wit: in his sophomore year, he posted a terrible .293 OBP, despite launching 29 home runs.
While he would never hit for that kind of power again, Francoeur actually made large strides in 2007, drawing 42 walks and raising his OBP by 45 points. It looked like he might deliver on his promise and become a true star, but in 2008 the bottom completely fell out and Frenchy devolved into one of the worst hitters in the league, posting a 72 OPS+. Ever since then, he's shown flashes of hot hitting (like his half-season with the Mets in 2009) combined with much larger stretches of suckitude. The Braves finally gave up on their hometown boy and he's been bouncing around the league ever since, though he somehow ended up starting World Series games for the Rangers in 2010.
In 2012, Francoeur rose to an almost historic level of offensive ineptness. In his second season with Kansas City, Francoeur was just awful, hitting .235/.287/.378 with just 16 home runs and an unbelievably low 49 RBIs. Some even argued that Frenchy was in the middle of perhaps the worst season in the history of baseball. That's rough. He was dumped by most owners sometime around midseason last year and entering 2013 he's basically seen as waiver wire poison in every league I'm in.
So why am I subjecting myself to this? Why am I picking up a player who just came off of one of the most worthless fantasy seasons in memory? For several reasons. First, my outfield is a mess. I play in an incredibly deep, 18-team keeper league, where every owner scours the free agent list like a starving jackal in search of free production. In this league, my whole team is beset by injury. Derek Jeter, Chase Headley, Cody Ross, and now Ryan Ludwick are among the injured. If I hadn't traded for Alex Rios last week, the outlook would have been even bleaker. I can shift Ben Zobrist to the outfield, but then I have to fill second base with some truly undesirable options. Simply put, I'm desperate for some outfielders.
Second, Frenchy was actually a damned good fantasy player in 2011, putting together the best season of his career after Dayton Moore brought him to Kansas City (amidst much derision from wags on the Internet ). In 2011, Francoeur hit .285/.329/.476, with 20 home runs, 87 RBIs, and, shockingly, 22 stolen bases, the latter being easily a career-high. He wasn't a star, but his stock was so low that he provided a nice boost to fantasy owners who nabbed him for a song early that season. He's just one year removed from that, so I'm clinging to some hope that he's got another 2011-type year in him, or even a 2011-esque two month stretch to tide me over.
Third, Francoeur tends to alternate years where he hits everything in the air with years where he hits a bunch of ground balls. The years where he hits more ground balls are the years where he turns to crap, like 2008 and 2012. When he gets the ball in the air, he's generally been decent, like in 2007 and 2011. Odd-numbered years have been the ones where he's been able to get the ball elevated more, and as a result he's more productive, so I'm hoping that trend continues, even if it's ridiculous to think so.
This won't even be the first time I've had Francoeur on my team in this league. I had him for a brief stretch in 2009 (I think I traded Ryan Church for him or something), before jettisoning him for Matt Joyce and Tim Wakefield in mid-summer. Desperate times, of course, call for going back to the well, and hoping upon hope that Francoeur can provide some modicum of value for me while my team mends. In a best case scenario, he rediscovers his 2011 self and I can keep him around all season. I guess it's worth enduring the gales of laughter and mockery from my leaguemates to find out. Or maybe I'm destined for several more sad mirror staring sessions before this season is out.