The All-Star break has arrived, and the Mets and Yankees are worlds apart. The Amazin’s are in fourth place in the National League East, ahead of only the lowly Nationals in the standings and 6 ½ games behind the first-place Phillies. The Bombers, meanwhile, are poised to return to the thick of a playoff chase after last season’s hiatus, trailing the Red Sox by three games in the American League East and leading the Rangers by 2 ½ games in the Wild Card hunt. Despite their disparate fortunes, both teams have been active recently, swinging minor trades with entirely different intentions.
The Mets swapped out-of-favor right fielders with the division-rival Braves on Friday, sending oft-injured and generally mediocre Ryan Church to Atlanta in exchange for Jeff Francoeur. Church, curiously billed by Mets fans as an MVP-caliber player after two good months to start last season, never was the same after returning from a concussion in late May; more likely, he merely normalized and it was erroneously attributed to his injury. This season was much of the same, punctuated by inexplicably missing third base late in a game with what would have been the go-ahead run and a stint on the DL with a hamstring strain.
The deal illustrates just how far the toolsy Francoeur’s stock has fallen in just one-plus years. A solid defender with a hose in right field, Francoeur was one of the game’s burgeoning stars after posting consecutive 100-RBI campaigns in 2006-07. The proverbial book on Francoeur, however, has since gotten out: He’s remained woefully impatient at the plate, posting a career on-base percentage of just .309 through Sunday, and that includes a career-best mark of .338 in ’07. Certainly, Francoeur’s ceiling is higher than that of his trademate, but at 25 years old and already having shown an unwillingness to work on his deficiencies – he responded to a brief demotion to Double-A Mississippi in 2008 with criticism of the Braves’ front office – the window for reaching that potential is rapidly closing, if it’s not already shut. Mets fans expecting a significant contribution from Francoeur this season and beyond without him first significantly overhauling his approach at the plate are in for a rude awakening.
Conversely, the Yankees on June 30 plucked useful utility man Eric Hinske from the Pirates in exchange for a pair of obscure Minor Leaguers. Hinske can play the corners of both the outfield and infield, and coming off the bench, as he will be for the Yanks, he was a worthwhile addition considering how little was given up. Though he’s never lived up to the high expectations after claiming AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2002, he’s enjoyed a solid career, socking 20 homers for the Rays in limited action during their worst-to-first run in ’08.
The diverging paths of the Bombers and Mets this season has been no more apparent than through the lens of these deals. While both clubs were projected to contend in their respective divisions and leagues with bloated payrolls and brand-new ballparks, only the Yankees have held up their end of the bargain as the Mets have been derailed by a rash of injuries and, more importantly, a pronounced lack of depth. The Yankees added a useful 25th man to come off their bench in Hinske; the Mets have sunken so low as to swing a desperate trade for a player with long-unrealized upside in Francoeur in hopes of shaking up team chemistry. If Mets general manager Omar Minaya is fortunate enough to survive this debacle, he will have to give serious consideration to bolstering his team’s depth chart before 2010 so that the Amazin’s can rely on competent role players and veterans rather than journeymen Minor Leaguers and other teams’ trash.