Which one is worse – seeing stars go down with injuries or seeing your team trade for a durable guy who is no good?  The Mets are about to find out as the team has just acquired Jeff Francoeur.

If you are a fan of the New York Knicks, you understand that every trade must be viewed not from a talent point of view but rather what the deal does to help the club get under the salary cap.  That is why when they make a trade and it turns out that one of the key guys they received in return ends up having a heart condition, they do not care.  From the Knicks’ POV, the key condition was the contract date, which was going to run out in time to make a push for a big-ticket free agent or two in 2010.

But the Mets do not have that focus.  Each trade they make needs to be viewed how the talent received in return helps the big club.  And with that POV, the Ryan Church-Jeff Francoeur trade was a disaster.

Now, I am not a big Church fan.  Prior to the start of the season, I wanted the Mets to cut him and give the right field spot outright to Fernando Tatis.  But while I am not a Church backer, it is also naïve to think that he does not bring value to the club.  Church is a very good defender in right field and he can play center field on an emergency basis and not embarrass the team, as he has done recently with Carlos Beltran on the DL.

But Church has a .280/.332/.375 line which is not very good in general and for a corner outfield spot it is completely unacceptable.  Church was hitting great last year before concussions got the better of him.  Since he returned from the DL last season, Church simply has not been a starting caliber outfielder.

I have no problem trading Church.  I do not expect to get a lot in return for him.  But Francoeur is simply a poor return.  While Church is not a starting outfielder, he is a legitimate major league player.  In addition to his fine defense, Church has a .310/.360/.424 line versus RHP.  He is a good platoon player, especially given his salary.

But there is simply not one thing you can point to and say Francoeur does at a major league level.

This year, Francoeur is hitting .250/.282/.352 or worse than Church.  He does not hit for a good average, he does not get on base at a decent clip and his ISO (SLG-AVG) of .102 is less than that of Brian Schneider (.157) and Daniel Murphy (.115).  Some call him a strong defender but that is simply not true.  He has a strong throwing arm, but that is negated by not being very good with the glove nor having much range.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Francoeur is that some combination of he, his ex-manager and the fan base viewed him as a star going through a slump rather than someone who was not a good ballplayer.  The Braves tried to send him to the minors last year and Francoeur threw a fit.  He was back in the majors a week later and seemingly learned nothing from his demotion.

This year the big news was that he spent the off-season revamping his swing.  In April he hit for a good average but with no power.  And since then he stopped hitting for a good average.

Proponents of Francoeur and the deal will point to 2007, when he hit .293 and drove in 105 runs or 2006, when he had 29 HR and 103 RBIs.  But in 2007, Francoeur had a Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) of .342, which is significantly above average.  Most players will post a BABIP of between .290-.310 over a full season.  In 2006, Francoeur had a .286 BABIP and in 2008 it was .277.  So, when Francoeur hit .293 he was lucky.  That is not indicative of what a healthy Francoeur can be expected to hit.  Instead that is what he is capable of when all of the hits fall in.  It happened and it was real, but it was good fortune not skill.

Well, what about the RBIs?  Francoeur was the beneficiary of his teammates getting on base for him.  Francoeur had 319 plate appearances with runners on base in 2007 and had 257 runners in scoring position.  In 2006, he had 298 PA with runners on base and 226 runners in scoring position.  RBIs are mostly a statistic based on opportunity.  Francoeur drove in 17.7 percent of the runners on base in 2007.  That is a decent percentage but of the top 30 players in driving in other runners, 17 players had a higher percentage.  In 2006 his percentage was 16.5 percent.

This season Francoeur has already had 174 PA with runners on base yet has driven in only 35 runs.  By contrast, Carlos Beltran has had 142 PA with runners on base and has driven in 40 runs.  This year Francoeur has driven in just 12.2 percent of the runners on base when he’s come to the plate.

One of the things that Omar Minaya mentioned in Francoeur’s favor is his durability.  He has played 155 or more games each of the last three seasons.  And given the Mets’ injury problems this year, that is not insignificant.  But there is nothing good about durability if it is not combined with  decent production.  Who cares if he is in the lineup every day if he stinks each day he is out there?

Some still view the Francoeur transaction as a win-win proposition for the Mets.  If he plays good, he is arbitration eligible and will remain with the Mets.  And if he is no good, the Mets simply do not tender him a contract in 2010.  But how confident are you that the Mets will give up on him after less than 300 ABs?  Right now the most likely scenario is that Francoeur will be the team’s Opening Day right fielder in 2010.

I would like nothing more than for Francoeur to come out and hit for the Mets like he did when he first came to the majors in 2005.  But there has been precious little in his batting line the following three and a half years to give any indication that he is likely to do that again.

As things stand right now, Francoeur is a borderline major league player.  He has a strong arm and not much else.  And to get this the Mets gave up a fine platoon player in Church.  Francoeur had a long leash in Atlanta being a local kid.  It will be curious to see how he performs in New York once the fan base turns on him after his first extended session of poor performance.

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