The Jeff Francoeur Era is over in Atlanta. Frenchy is gone to Flushing.
What once would've seemed implausible -- Francoeur traded to New York -- was only mildly shocking when it happened Friday, when the Braves traded their right fielder and erstwhile hometown Golden Boy to the Mets in exchange for outfielder Ryan Church.
"It's definitely disappointing," said Francoeur, a Lilburn native and former two-sport star at Parkview High who has struggled for the past two seasons.
"I never wanted it to happen this way. ... You can imagine getting traded, but you never imagine getting traded to your biggest rival."
Francoeur, 25, was watching TV in the visitor's clubhouse at Coors Field on Friday afternoon when bench coach Chino Cadahia told him that manager Bobby Cox needed to see him.
"We made a move," said Cox, who never knows exactly what to say in these situations, so he always cuts to the chase. He told Francoeur he had been traded to the Mets.
They traded him for Church, 30, an outfielder perhaps best known to Braves fans as the player who got a concussion when shortstop Yunel Escobar kneed him in a controversial play last season.
The Braves play the Mets at Turner Field starting Thursday in the first series after the All-Star break.
"When you've known a kid since he's 18, who played well here and helped you win. ..." Cox said, not finishing the thought. "It's going to be weird, when we open up against the Mets [after the All-Star break], to look out to right field and see ol' Frenchy out there."
It's going to be strange for everyone involved, especially for Braves catcher Brian McCann. He has been Francoeur's close friend since childhood, and they roomed together in the minor leagues and when both were Braves rookies in 2005, before each got married.
"It's weird," McCann said. "I've been playing with him since we were 12 years old. You don't get a chance to play together in your hometown, after growing up together. Our dreams came true together, at the same, right in front of us.
"He's my best friend, and I'm going to miss him."
Church was hitting .280 with two homers, 22 RBIs and a .332 on-base percentage in 67 games for the Mets, and had a May stint on the disabled list for a hamstring strain. He had career-highs of 15 homers and 70 RBIs in 144 games for Washington in 2007, the only year he has played more than 102 games.
Francoeur hit .250 with five homers and 35 RBIs in 82 games, and his .282 on-base percentage was the fourth-worst among National League starters.
"It's going to be a little different atmosphere -- 45,000 every night, and it's the Big Apple," said Francoeur, who hurried to pack and talk to reporters before catching a flight out of Denver. "It's going to be different. Me and my wife [Catie] are really excited to go up there and try it out.
"It's such a shock, and happened so quickly, you don't get a chance to digest it and think about it."
Francoeur said his good-byes, hugged teammates, prepared to leave behind his hometown team.
"I'm gonna miss the guys in here, the coaching staff and Bobby, and the fans," he said. I have loved playing in Atlanta and playing in front of the fans. Catie and I will always keep our home in Atlanta."
A few years ago, no one could have imagined it would come to this. Francoeur, the former first-round draft pick who rose quickly through the Braves organization, landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated during his 2005 rookie season, with "The Natural" splashed across his picture.
"He came on like gangbusters," Cox said. "He and McCann came up a year and a half before they were supposed to and right away he hit .300 that year. He followed that up with another great year."
But then came the decline, first in power (19 homers in 2007), then everything (11 homers, .239 average in 2008).
"He wanted to hit more home runs," Cox said. "Hell, he hit 29 one year. ... Instead of letting it happen, he tried to make it happen."
Since the 2007 All-Star break, Francoeur has hit .256 with 25 homers, 153 RBIs, a .304 on-base percentage and a .381 slugging percentage in 310 games.
During spring training 2007, Francoeur was offered a contract similar to the six-year, $27.8 million deal that McCann was offered. McCann signed; Francoeur did not, thinking he would be worth more if he kept putting up big numbers like he did his first two seasons.
He's making $3.375 million this season, and the Braves might have non-tendered Francoeur this winter rather than pay him the $4.5 million or so he might have commanded through arbitration.
The Braves also sent a small amount of cash to the Mets in the trade, believed to be about $300,000 to cover the prorated portion of the difference between the two players' salaries this season (Church has a $2.8 million salary).
"Maybe a change of scenery will do Frenchy some good," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "We're getting a pretty good player for him in return. I like Ryan Church.
"But it hurts when you lose a guy who's been on your team a long time. He was starting to swing the bat better, but this is the business of baseball."
Jones said hearing his name bandied about in trade rumors last year, and being sent to the minors, had affected Francoeur.
"He's had to grow up real quick," he said. "When he first starting hearing stuff, trade rumors, and last year getting sent down -- he didn't take it very well. That situation made him grow up. I think he's a better man, a better ballplayer now than he was then. We'll see how it progresses."
When Francoeur returns with the Mets on Thursday, Jones is curious about the reception he'll get.
"Hopefully the fans of Atlanta will show the appreciation for everything he did for the community and the ballclub, and wish him well for his future," he said.
"Francoeur was one of those kids you never thought was going to get traded. Especially with his background in Atlanta. But it's [general manager] Frank Wren and [president] John Schuerholz's job to try and better this club. We'll see if this moves does that."
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