(Photo: Getty Images)
The Juan Francisco saga cleared up a little bit Monday, with reports specifying that Francisco had been placed on release waivers, clearing him to sign with another team.
A release from the Brewers was not the result I envisioned with Francisco. After the conclusion of the 2013 season, I was adamant that the Brewers look proactively and determinedly for a first-base solution that either did not involve or would marginalize Francisco. Francisco has a lot of power potential, but his poor play on defense at first and third base, combined with his strikeouts and poor batting average leave much to be desired. I was worried at that point that Francisco would be the default option to start at first base in 2014. That said, I did still see him as a useful bench bat and part-time player.
The first-base question lingered long into the offseason, and for months it appeared the Brewers would indeed stick with Francisco at first. When the Brewers signed Mark Reynolds in January, the right-handed Reynolds looked like a logical fit to share time with Francisco. Of course, when Lyle Overbay was signed shortly thereafter, the first-base situation became increasingly muddled.
Francisco, 26, a native of the Dominican Republic, played winter ball this offseason and put up good numbers in spring camp. He was batting over .300 and had taken more walks this spring, indicating he was seeing the ball well. There was talk of adjustments made. Conversely, Francisco’s replacement, Lyle Overbay, stunk it up in Maryvale until recently. The Brewers have indicated that Overbay made the club based on his defense.
Unfortunately for the Brewers, they were unable to parlay Francisco into any future assets for the ball club. That result is the most disappointing thing regarding Francisco’s tenure in Milwaukee. Minor-league lefty Thomas Keeling, who was traded to the Atlanta Braves in the Francisco deal with Milwaukee, was released by the Braves recently after piling up ugly stats at Double-A Mississippi, including 28 walks in 29 post-trade appearances in 2013. So far the Brewers didn’t lose much in the deal to acquire Francisco, but they won’t get anything in return for his departure now.
It has been said for a while now that if the Brewers were still in the American League, Francisco would fit in nicely as the designated hitter. That’s probably true, and Francisco’s go-for-broke approach at the plate is reminiscent of many prototypical Brewers sluggers through the years, from Rob Deer to Russell Branyan. Per Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt, GM Doug Melvin said of the situation: “American League teams can make room for a bat like that. We can’t.”
Boiled down to the basics, the Brewers liked Overbay’s glove more than Francisco’s, and they also liked the intangible veteran presence Overbay brings. While Overbay is most certainly past his prime, the Brewers don’t have an excess of older “clubhouse leader”-type guys. In the first season since Ryan Braun’s suspension, it couldn’t hurt to have experienced players like Reynolds and Overbay on the squad.
Francisco is still very young, and he may yet find his groove in the major leagues. However, he probably should find a taker in the American League sooner rather than later. Trying to fit him in on a NL team is like the old round-peg, square-hole problem. The Brewers are trying to make a run in 2014 and their defense is already shaky. Keeping Juan Francisco on the field defensively would be the Joker in that house of cards.
The Brewers historically have been known as an organization with the players’ best interests in mind, and they want it to stay that way. It’s possible they could have stashed Francisco in Triple-A Nashville after finding no trade partners. Instead, they will allow Francisco to find a more comfortable and lucrative opportunity elsewhere. “This gives Juan a chance to hook up with somebody else,” said Melvin.
The Brewers will owe Francisco only a quarter of his 2014 salary, or about $337,500, in releasing him. The Brewers are doing right by the player in granting his release after he failed to do enough, or be the right guy, for the team to start 2014. Whether going with Overbay over Francisco is the right move, time will tell. It’s entirely possible that Francisco just isn’t a fit for any NL club. Or maybe he’ll join the Pittsburgh Pirates, who knows. Francisco, with enough at-bats, could hit 25-30 homers, though his batting average and strikeouts short-circuit some of his value.
We wish Francisco the best…hopefully for an American League team. Francisco has the talent to be a good major league player, but his current form was not enough to keep him around in an organization that truly loves its big boppers.