The Associated Press . Kansas City Royals' Jeff Francoeur, a Parkview grad, hits an RBI single off Chicago White Sox starter Edwin Jackson on Wednesday in Chicago.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jeff Francoeur signed with the Kansas City Royals in the offseason hoping for a chance to prove that he could be an everyday player. He agreed to a contract extension Thursday because he succeeded.
The Royals announced the two-year extension shortly before opening a four-game series against the Boston Red Sox. It should keep the 27-year-old right fielder with the club through the 2013 season, when those within the organization expect the youngest roster in the majors to be competing for championships.
“We have enough pieces in place, and hopefully guys to come, that hopefully this will turn around quick. We’re in a division where you don’t have to win 95, 96 games a year,” Francoeur said. “We’re in a good division to hopefully finish this season strong and play well next season. And for me, I want to be a part of that, I do. I want to be part of when this thing turns around and Kansas city starts winning again. I want to say I was here.”
It’s been a while since someone said that in baseball’s backwaters.
Kansas City hasn’t finished better than third in its division since 1995, and that includes a stretch of three consecutive seasons from 2004-06 in which the franchise lost 100 games. But with the arrival of general manager Dayton Moore, the Royals began to restock the farm system and add some key free agents.
Francoeur was someone Moore had been targeting.
After bouncing through the New York Mets and Texas Rangers, Francoeur was eager to sign with a team that would allow him to play every day. Moore didn’t make any promises other than to give him a chance, and that proved to be enough. Francoeur is hitting .277 with 15 homers, 66 RBIs and a career-high 19 stolen bases.
“He’s done a great job of coming in here and proving he can still be a productive, everyday player, and I’m glad to see that,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He fits a lot of bills for us. He’s a consistent producer offensively, he’s a gold glove-caliber defender, and his clubhouse presence and leadership are very high.”
That may be where Francoeur has been most valuable.
The affable outfielder, who signed a one-year deal last December, has taken the youthful Royals under his wing this season. Even though he’d be considered a pup on most major league rosters, Francoeur has several years on most of the rest of the Kansas City clubhouse. In fact, there have been games this season where the starting lineup has an average age of about 24 years old, similar to that of many minor league teams.
“We’re so young,” Yost said, “and Frenchy has been through a major league experience, if you will, at a young age. He knows the road, knows where the potholes are and can help the young guys.”
Francoeur certainly knows something about potholes. He was just 21 when he broke into the majors with the Atlanta Braves, hitting 14 homers and batting .300 in about half a season. Three years later, his average had dropped to .239 and he was soon shipped to the Mets, where he was never quite comfortable.
He was dealt to Texas down the stretch last season and hit .340 in 15 games, mostly in a platoon role, but he couldn’t help but feel he could be an everyday player given the right situation.
“When Dayton kind of approached me about this kind of stuff, and we kind of talked, I knew this was the right place,” Francoeur said. “And I will say, I knew this was a chance to have a bounce-back kind of year.”
Francoeur wasn’t all that familiar with Kansas City having played most of his career in the National League, but the young and rapidly improving roster combined with a city that reminds him of his hometown of Atlanta — at least, much more than New York did — sold him on wanting to stick around a couple more years.