- Associated Press - Monday, December 13, 2010

KANSAS CITY, MO. (AP) - Jeff Francoeur was a Sports Illustrated cover boy on the Aug. 29, 2005 issue, billed as “The Natural” while a rookie with the Atlanta Braves.

Francoeur lived up that billing the next two seasons, not missing a game, while hitting 29 home runs with 103 RBIs in 2006. In 2007, Francoeur hit .293 with 19 home runs, 40 doubles, 105 RBIs and scored 84 runs. He also won a Gold Glove that season, leading the majors with 19 outfield assists.

Since then, Francoeur’s career has been on a spiral. He passed a physical Monday and officially became a Kansas City Royals, his fourth team in less than two years. He agreed to a one-year contract for $2.5 million last week pending passing a physical with an option for 2012.

He combined to hit .249 with 13 home runs and 65 RBIs in 139 games last season with the Texas Rangers and New York Mets. So is Francoeur another Sports Illustrated cover jinx?

“You can say it affected me negatively if you want, but at the end of the day for me what’s in the past is in the past as far as that is concerned,” Francoeur said Monday. “I had a great time in Atlanta. I thought I would play there forever, but it didn’t just happen.”

What happened was the Braves and Mets traded him and the Rangers released him after falling to San Francisco in the World Series, which made him a free agent. The Royals, looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder, signed him.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore was in the Braves front office when Francoeur was a first-round pick in 2002 and helped sign him. He has known Francoeur since he was an 18-year-old high school senior.

“Throughout the years, I always thought it would be a kick to get back with Dayton and have a chance to play,” Francoeur said. “This was just the right opportunity at the right time. I’m looking forward to getting back to where I know I can be.

“Obviously, I feel very comfortable with Dayton. I feel very comfortable with Ned (Yost, Royals manager). I’ve played against his sons in high school. I knew him when he was with the Braves (coaching staff) in spring training. That’s something that went a long ways with my wife and me. We’re looking forward to playing here, living here.”

To regain his 2007 form, Francoeur has shed pounds. He said his playing weight was 212 that season. He reported to spring training in 2008 weighing 242 pounds, but said he weighed 217 for his physical Monday.

“I think I made a mistake of (adding weight in 2008) obviously to try to hit home runs,” he said. “I had about three chins. I kinda got a little too big. From losing the weight, I want to get back to being an athlete. My whole goal every year is to try to hit around 20 home runs and 40 doubles. I want to be a gap-to-gap guy. My home runs have always been line drives, never long home runs.”

While other clubs may have given up on Francoeur, it’s too soon to count him out.

“I’m only 26 years old,” he said. “It’s not like I’m 33-34 on the downside. I like to think that I’ve still got a lot of upside to get going.”

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