SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Jeff Francoeur may have the most likable personality in baseball, yet he makes so many fans in Kansas City so mad.
Perhaps the fact that he was, statistically speaking, the worst position player in the big leagues last year has something to do with it. And he’s still with the Royals, who sent top prospect Wil Myers to Tampa Bay in an offseason trade that brought right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City.
"I understand people who probably wonder why the hell we traded Wil Myers when I did what I did, and I understand that," Francoeur said.
Francoeur is coming off an awful season in which he hit .235, and only four players had a worse on-base percentage than his .287. After stroking 47 doubles and driving in 87 runs in 2011, those numbers dipped to 26 and 49 in 2012. After stealing 22 bases in 2011, Francoeur stole only four bases in 11 attempts last year.
Myers? He was the consensus minor league player of the year, combining to hit .314 with 37 home runs between Triple-A Omaha and Double-A Northwest Arkansas. The 22-year-old was projected to replace Francoeur this season in right field.
So is Francoeur happy Myers was traded?
"You know what, I’m happy for Wil," Francoeur said. "He’s going to get a chance and he’s a great kid. I’m happy for this team. I feel we’ve got some good starting pitchers back. I feel confident in what I can do. I’m coming to camp this year to basically win my position."
Francoeur, who is in the final season of a two-year, $13.5 million contract, will begin 2013 as the Royals’ right fielder. He knows he will have to hit better to keep the job.
"I’m real disappointed what I did last year," Francoeur said. "I pride myself showing up every day and being productive and last year I wasn’t. There’s no way to sugarcoat that. I know it. I didn’t do my job."
While Shields, Davis and Ervin Santana, who was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels, will upgrade the Kansas City rotation, the Royals need Francoeur to bounce back for the offense to be productive.
"I’m excited to come out this year and have a big year," Francoeur said. "I know I need to come in and have a good year and help this team win. I know I’m expected to do big things in right field and be a power bat for the lineup and play good defense."
The Royals fired hitting coach Kevin Seitzer after the season and replaced him with Jack Maloof and Andre David, his assistant. Francoeur, who led big league outfielders with 19 assists last season, had been hitting for three months before arriving in spring training.
"We looked at some things of what I wanted to do and some checkpoints," Francoeur said. "I told them, this is where I want to be. I feel good about it, now all there is left to do it. I feel like I’ve put the work in and now you don’t have to think about it. You just go out and do it."
Manager Ned Yost anticipates Francoeur will have a better season.
"I’m looking for him to be the player he was two years ago," Yost said.
Francoeur acknowledged he has a chip on his shoulder this year.
"I let these guys down," Francoeur said. "A lot of guys had good years and I wasn’t able to hold up my end of the bargaining and I don’t want to be that missing chip this year when we make a little playoff run. In years past I’ve come to spring training to kind of get in shape. I’m coming down here to hit .400 this year in spring. I’ve never been a good spring player. But I’m coming in the first game taking it real serious this year."
NOTES: SS Alcides Escobar and INF Miguel Tejada were the only players absent Friday for the first full-squad workout. Tejada became sick Thursday while attempting to leave the Dominican Republic and was told to stay home and try to arrive Saturday. Escobar had experienced visa problems for his wife in Venezuela, but was expected to be in camp Saturday. ... LHP Will Smith and RHPs Guillermo Moscoso and Luis Mendoza are the probable starters for the first three exhibition games, beginning Feb. 22. ... LHP Everett Teaford was scratched from throwing with a tender shoulder.