It's hard to believe it has been almost seven years since the Atlanta Braves traded Jeff Francoeur. It was the end of a four-year span for a player who was supposed to be the next Dale Murphy but instead became just another right fielder.
Francoeur has gone from being on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a rookie to a journeyman player. Since leaving Atlanta, Francoeur has played for six other teams. But he came home this past week, signing a minor league contract with the Braves with a chance to make the Atlanta roster.
It would be a great story if Francoeur were to make the team, but it will not be easy. The Braves have a lot of moving parts in the outfield with a number of options. Francoeur must have a great month of March to prove he can help the Atlanta team.
Of course, there is no risk in this move. If he doesn't make the opening day roster, the Braves could ask Francoeur to go to Triple-A Gwinnett, which would allow him to play near his Atlanta home.
The Braves have a lot of uncertainty about the outfield right now, but it's not because of a lack of options. There are just many questions that have to be answered in spring training.
Can Hector Olivera handle left field? The Braves got Olivera from the Los Angeles Dodgers in July and tried him at third base. Now they want to see if he can handle left instead. Olivera still might have to go back to third if the candidates there (Adonis Garcia, Kelly Johnson and Gordon Beckham) struggle. The Braves want Olivera in the lineup, but they have to see where he fits best in the field.
If Olivera has to go back to third, that would open up another spot in the outfield. We do know that Nick Markakis will be in right field. The veteran should be better offensively with another year off his neck surgery. Markakis could play left if necessary.
Ender Inciarte will be in center, unless the Braves get a trade offer for him in March. Since Atlanta acquired Inciarte from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Shelby Miller trade, several teams have inquired about Inciarte. But it looks like he will start the season in Atlanta.
The Braves have veterans Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, who were acquired late last season for Chris Johnson in a cost-cutting move. The Braves would like Bourn to be on the team, considering his veteran leadership. Swisher is insurance at first base if Freddie Freeman has more issues with his wrist.
Then there's top prospect Mallex Smith, who some believe could make a case in March that he's ready for the big leagues. Smith hit .306 with a .373 on-base percentage and had 57 stolen bases between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last season. If Smith does well, things could get interesting.
So Francoeur will have his work cut out for him. The one thing he does have going for him is his power. Francoeur had 13 home runs last season for the Philadelphia Phillies in only 326 at-bats. That would have ranked second on the Atlanta team last season. So perhaps Francoeur's ability to hit home runs will give him a chance.
The addition of Francoeur creates more intrigue for what will be one of the most interesting spring trainings in recent memory for the Braves.
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