It would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago for the Atlanta Braves to even consider trading Jeff Francoeur.
But that was before the hometown hero's hitting took a stunning dip and his relationship with the team he grew up rooting for turned shockingly sour.
Atlanta general manager Frank Wren had been exploring trade options for months.
On Friday, he found a match.
Francoeur was dealt to the rival New York Mets for outfielder Ryan Church, whose .280 average is 30 points higher.
To show how far Francoeur's stock has fallen, the Braves had to send $270,000 to the Mets to equalize salaries. Both players can become free agents after the 2011 season.
Church, 30, is a left-handed hitter who can play any of the outfield spots and, like Francoeur, has a strong arm. But he has also had a similar power outage this season, hitting just two homers and driving in 22 runs.
Francoeur, 25, had five home runs and 35 RBIs - numbers well short of what he produced at this point in his first few seasons.
The former Parkview football and baseball standout hit a home run in his first game after he was called up to Atlanta from Class AA Mississippi in July 2005 and landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated late that season with the headline "The Natural."
"Hopefully I can get up there and get off to a good start," Francoeur said before leaving Denver, where the Braves played the Colorado Rockies in the second game of a four-game series Friday night.
"I think it will work out for him in New York," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
Francoeur and Church, who is expected to platoon in right field with Matt Diaz, will be facing their old teams in less than a week. The Braves and Mets play a four-game series at Turner Field after the All-Star Game break beginning Thursday.
"What's just weird is you imagine to be traded, but you never imagine to be traded to your biggest rival," Francoeur said.
Francoeur lived up to the hype in his first two full seasons with the Braves, driving in 100 runs each year. But he slumped badly last season, earning a brief demotion to the minors.
Not used to anything except success, Francoeur reacted angrily and the relationship between player and team was never fully repaired.
The Braves weren't happy when the right-handed hitter bypassed hitting coach Terry Pendleton and worked with Texas Rangers instructor Rudy Jarimillo during the winter.
The results seemed to be positive, though, during spring training and the first few weeks of the season. Then Francoeur went into a slump and reverted to his old free-swinging ways.
Francoeur, never one to draw many walks, has hit .243 with a .357 slugging mark since the beginning of last season. He had three doubles Thursday night in a loss to Colorado, but his slugging percentage was only .352 this year and his on-base percentage was a woeful .282.
Church's slugging mark wasn't much better than Francoeur's this season, though, at .375. His most productive season was in 2007 with Washington, when he had 43 doubles and 15 homers, driving in 70 runs.
This is the sixth major league season for Church and his career average is .273. He made two trips to the disabled list last season, suffering a second concussion trying to break up a double play against the Braves, and was on the DL again this year.
At least Francoeur has been able to avoid injuries. "One thing we like about Francoeur is the amount of games that he plays," Mets general manager Omar Minaya told New York reporters.
Francoeur played in every game in his first two full seasons with Atlanta. But he had received several days off this season, including three in a row recently.
"Frenchy was our guy from right out of high school," Cox said. "It's hard to move guys when you sign them like that and when they've been around. Maybe a transition over there in a Mets uniform will get him going again."
"You heard the trade rumors," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "But Frenchy was one of those guys that you didn't think would ever be traded."
"It's going to be weird playing without him," said Braves catcher Brian McCann from Duluth, a friend of Francoeur since they were 12 years old. "Hopefully, this will work out the best for him."
Wren said that he likes Church's bat "especially against right-handed pitching."
"He gives us an additional offensive spark and plays very good defense," the GM said.
Church said he was stunned by the trade. "Shocker. Came out of nowhere," he told New York reporters. "The good thing is I get to play these guys next week."