Tigers’ Dontrelle Willis joined by Francoeur

July 5, 2008 by Tom Ferda 

Published in Baseball Digest Daily 2008

Originally from Detroit, Tom is a Los Angeles based sportswriter. His material has been published in several newspapers including The New York Daily News, Detroit Free Press and Washington Times. Magazines that have published his features include Men’s Book, The Hockey News (Canada), USA Hockey Mag, 360 Hawks and 360 Thrashers. For clippings or inquiries contact him at tom@tomferda.com

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Tigers’ Dontrelle Willis  Joined by Francoeur

Written by TOM FERDA

DETROIT – This year, star MLB players are learning there are no guaranteed positions on the rosters. Despite receiving enormous salaries and long-term contracts, All-Star players and fan favorites are being forced to trade chartered flights to MLB cities for trips to away games on a bus.

Dontrelle Willis ($29 million over three years) discovered that in June when the Detroit Tigers sent the left-handed pitcher to their Single A affiliate in Lakeland. Willis was relegated to that assignment after posting an 0-1 record over four starts that lasted a total of 11.1 innings. He also experienced severe control problems in those games, walking 21 and posting an ERA of 10.32.

Still battling control problems in Lakeland, Willis is finding it difficult to recapture the form that put him on the NL All-Star team in 2005 when he pitched for the Marlins.

While Willis has been adjusting to riding a team bus to games, MLB’s latest victim of the axe is the Atlanta Braves’ Gold Glove winner Jeff Francoeur. After batting a miserable .121 over an 18 game span, Bobby Cox relegated the starting outfielder to AA affiliate Mississippi, the same team Francoeur played for before his MLB debut in 2005.

Former Georgia Tech player Jason Perry made his big league debut Friday night after being called up from the Brave’s Triple A Richmond team to replace Francoeur. In his first major league at bat, Perry got behind with a 1-2 count before fouling off several pitches then finally ripping an RBI triple deep in the right field gap, giving the Braves their first lead over any opponent in the last 47 innings.

Over the past two and a half seasons, Francoeur has started 408 games and was settled in as a regular for the Braves until the surprising news came after the Braves lost to the Phillies on Thursday. He was held hitless in four at bats that game, swinging at the first pitch in his last three at bats for routine outs.

Francoeur who hit .293 last year has clearly struggled with his swing most of the season. In addition to taking extra swings in the batting cage with his coaches, he visited an eye doctor in late June and began wearing a corrective lens in his right eye hoping to break out of his slump.

Nothing improved his performance at the plate; in fact his average before the corrective lens was .246 and dropped even lower to .234 over the next few weeks. His mechanics were horribly out of sync during Thursday’s Philly game; Cox had finally seen enough and demoted Francoeur.

The Tigers responded to the Willis move that occurred on June 10th by winning 15 out of the next 18 the rest of the month of June. After the Francoeur move Thursday, the Braves came out of the gate with a vengeance to break their losing streak, defeating the Houston Astros 6-2.

A strong message comes with these two transactions by the Braves and Tigers. No position is guaranteed to any player, All-Star or otherwise. The name of the game in pro sports is “win” and when teams aren’t winning or players aren’t producing, changes are made even at the cost of moving high-profile players like Dontrelle Willis and Jeff Francoeur.

Contact Tom via email: tom@tomferda.com

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