It was neither the time (3:45 p.m. MT, just before he was to start getting ready for a game against the Rockies) nor the place (the visiting manager's office at Coors Field) that he might have expected it, but Jeff Francoeur's once-heralded career with the Atlanta Braves came to an end Friday afternoon when he was called into the Bobby Cox's office and told, "We've made a trade and you'll never guess where: New York."
In truth, the trade itself was not news to Francoeur, who was well aware that his name has been dangled in trade rumors for some time (at one point the Red Sox were considered a potential landing point). Even coming to the Mets, who acquired him for outfielder Ryan Church, was not much of a shock. Reached by phone before he boarded a plane in Denver where his now former teammates are about to begin a series with the Rockies, Francoeur said that he had sensed through past conversations with Mets general manager Omar Minaya that he was a player on their radar screen. And though Francouer is a native Georgian who was born in Atlanta and reached the majors with his hometown team, whatever sadness he felt for being dealt away from his first club was overshadowed by the prospects of a fresh start in New York.
"I'm excited," he said. "I'm sad to leave Atlanta but excited to come to New York. It's the most exciting stage in baseball. The Mets take a lot of pride in winning and they've had some great teams the last couple years. I'll be playing on a big stage up there."
Before he had a chance to go to the airport, he had already received a phone call from ex-Mets and Braves pitcher Tom Glavine extolling the virtues of the Big Apple. "He told me how much I have to look forward to playing in New York," said Francoeur.
Asked his thoughts on living in New York, Francoeur laughed and said, "I might have to find some spaces with green grass for my dogs," but then added, "I'm looking forward to playing in that big outfield and throwing some guys out."
Despite his impressive throwing arm, it wasn't his defense that made the Mets target Francoeur. The Mets are desperate for any kind of offensive spark, having scored just 10 runs in their past six games. And while they rank second in the NL in batting average and on-base percentage, they are 10th in runs scored and dead last in home runs. At his best, Francoeur is capable of hitting for both power and average -- he batted .300 with 45 RBIs after a midseason call-up in 2005 that made him one of the year's most hyped players and he drove in 100 runs in each of the next two seasons. But he suffered a sharp decline in 2008, as his average dropped to .239 with just 11 home runs and 71 RBIs. In January, Francoeur admitted that he grew so frustrated last season, a year in which he was demoted to Double-A at one point that, "The last 30, 40 games I had the attitude like 'Screw it, I want this to be over.'"
He spent the winter adjusting his approach at the plate and vowed to stop discussing his struggles from a year ago, but he was batting a meager .250 with a .282 on-base percentage this season while striking out 46 times against just 11 walks. "I feel like I've been swinging the bat better," Francoeur said on Friday, and in fact, he had three doubles in his last game with the Braves on Thursday.
The Mets are looking for any kind of offensive boost since the injuries to Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran have deprived them of three of the top five hitters in their order. "They've had three key guys who have been out," Francoeur said. "I'm looking forward to getting in that lineup with guys like David Wright and seeing what I can do."
In a phone call with Minaya and Mets manager Jerry Manuel, Francoeur was told he will be in the lineup tomorrow night when the Mets play the Reds at Citi Field. He won't have to wait long to face his former teammates either. "The only weird thing will be that we play them the first four games after the break," said Francoeur, alluding to the Mets-Braves series that will open the second-half of the season on July 16.
One adjustment he won't have to make is to the increased pressure of playing in New York. "I'm such a high intensity guy anyway, and that's such a passionate fan-base," he said. "I can't wait."