An Outfield Swap That Could Help Two Teams

Sometimes, deals get made that turn around a player. How a player performs in one location doesn't mean he'll be that good - or that bad - in another. It's the old 'change of scenery' idea. Maybe, the Nationals could hook up to change some scenery for two struggling players.

Austin Kearns probably wants a 'do over' on the 2008 season. Kearns was hitting just .187 when he wound up on the DL about nearly two months ago and he just made it back to the big league club last week after a rehab assignment. While he's only played in four games, he's gone 4-for-15 (.267) with hits in three of the four games, so maybe there's at least a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. Still, he's a high-priced player that is under-achieving and just seems like one of those guys that needs a change of scenery, or something to get himself back on track.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Jeff Francoeur has had his own struggles and was hitting just .234 when he was demoted all the way to Double-A Mississippi on the Fourth of July; happy holiday, Jeff! He tore up the Southern League, going 7-for-13 (.538) in three games, including a 4-for-5 performance on Sunday that helped lead to his recall to join the Braves in Los Angeles for a series against the Dodgers. When he arrived in Mississippi, Francoeur told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he felt "betrayed" by being demoted and especially by the way it was handled. "My question is, what if I had hit a home run or had two hits [Thursday night]? Does it delay it one day, until I was 0-for-4? I was left standing outside in the dark on that. You almost felt like they had made [their minds] up before the game. That's where I felt frustrated, where I felt a little betrayed," he told the newspaper.

Sounds like a guy who also might need a change of scenery, especially since one of the theories on why he's struggled is because he's from Atlanta and some believe he may be stressing too much over playing in his hometown.

So, could Kearns for Francoeur work?

It's not likely that an even-up deal would work. After all, Kearns is making big money (he's still owed about $2.5 million this season, $8.0 million in 2009 and has a $1.0 million buyout or a $10.0 million option for 2010) and Francoeur is pretty cheap (he's owed about $230,000 for this season and is arbitration eligible for 2009). While money isn't a huge object for the Braves, no team would consider a deal to give up an up-and-coming struggling player for a struggling veteran player who is guaranteed another $11.5 million. The Nationals likely wouldn't be completely against picking up some of Kearns' remaining price tag to help the deal get done, but it still wouldn't be enough.

The Braves would want something else in exchange. Possibly a prospect - at least the mid-level variety - or a somewhat proven veteran player who could at least provide some help at the Major League level. The Braves are like most teams and can use some pitching help, although the Nats wouldn't be too inclined to give up much in the way of pitching in a deal for Francoeur unless they believed that they could truly turn the 24 year old outfielder around.

Another angle would be to up the prospect that the Nationals would send to Atlanta and substitute Wily Mo Pena instead of Kearns. Pena is owed another million for this season and either a $5.0 million club option or a $2.0 million buyout for 2009, meaning that the Braves wouldn't be on the hook for as much money as they would with Kearns, but you can argue whether they would be getting the same talent in exchange. After all, Wily Mo is hitting just .214, but he is just one year older than Francoeur rather than the three years in age difference between Francoeur and the elder Kearns.

GM Jim Bowden says he'll consider all kinds of trades, whether they're to add prospects for the future or to get established players that can help both now and down the road. Francoeur fits the type of player that would be a nice addition to the Nationals, if Bowden could swing a deal and if both teams wouldn't be too squirrelly about dealing within the division.

It presents an interesting situation for both teams to ponder. And, with Atlanta considering offers for Mark Teixeira, the possibility of a three-team deal could also be thrown into the mix. After all, we're just 24 days away from the trade deadline.

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