Time ran out Saturday for outfielder Jeff Francoeur’s bid to resurrect his career with the Royals, but it’s about to start again Sunday for second baseman Johnny Giavotella.
The Royals designated Francoeur for assignment after Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins and filled his roster spot by recalling Giavotella from Class AAA Omaha.
Giavotella is expected to get an extended look as the club’s second baseman beginning with Sunday’s series finale against the Twins at Target Field.
“We need to look at Johnny,” general manager Dayton Moore confirmed. “We need to get his bat in the lineup and give him an opportunity. He’s going to come up and play a lot.”
Giavotella, 25, is batting .411 in his last 16 games (23 for 56) after going two for four in Friday’s 5-1 loss to Iowa. His overall average is .289. He batted .216 in a 38-game stretch before his current surge.
The move came one week after the Royals optioned second baseman Chris Getz to Omaha in large part because of a .276 on-base percentage. They plugged the gap in the interim with Elliot Johnson and Miguel Tejada.
“I’m happy with their defensive play,” manager Ned Yost said prior to Saturday’s game. “I’d like to get a little more production out of that spot. ... We’ll just go day to day with it and make adjustments.”
Giavotella is that adjustment. He spent time with the Royals over the two previous seasons, batting .242 with a .271 OBP, three homers and 36 RBIs in 99 games.
Francoeur’s playing time dipped sharply in recent weeks as he failed to shake a slump that plagued him since his bounce-back 2011 season. He exits with three homers, 13 RBIs and a .208 average in 59 games.
“I don’t think anybody is surprised,” Moore admitted. “It’s just one of those deals where it didn’t happen. Back in 2011, Jeff was as good as he can possibly be, but it just wasn’t working.”
Moore said the Royals made efforts to trade Francoeur but “weren’t able to find anything.” By designating him, the club now has 10 days to reach a resolution either through a trade or a release.
The Royals, as things now stand, are on the hook for the balance of Francoeur’s $6.75 million salary.
If he becomes a free agent and signs elsewhere, his new team would likely pay only a pro-rated amount of the major-league minimum salary ($490,000 for a full year).
Francoeur acknowledged in spring training he needed a big bounce-back year after slumping badly in 2012.
“I can’t afford to go out there for three months and just suck,” he said. “If I do, they should (pull the plug). That’s the way this game goes.”
Even so, as recently as two weeks ago, Francoeur believed he was on the verge of turnaround.
“I feel great,” he said. “I know if I start swinging, I’ll get my opportunities again.”
Francoeur struck out Saturday as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning and closed the Royals’ portion of his career with just four hits in his final 30 at-bats.
“We’re playing David Lough and (Jarrod) Dyson, Lorenzo Cain and (Alex) Gordon in the outfield,” Moore said. “It wasn’t fair to Jeff, and it wasn’t fair to our team (to keep Francoeur on the roster).
“Ned is playing him mostly against left-handers. When you look at our schedule for the next month or so, we’re not going to face a ton of left-handers.
“We’ll give him a chance to try to reestablish himself (elsewhere). We need to get Gio up here and see if he can swing the bat like he did in Omaha.”
Francoeur, 29, faced a similar career cross-road after the 2010 season.
The Royals, in need of short-term solutions in their outfield, took a chance by signing him to a one-year deal for $2.5 million, which represented a 50 percent cut in his previous salary.
Francoeur responded by putting together perhaps his best overall season. He batted .285 with 20 homers and 87 RBIs. He also set career highs with 47 doubles and 22 steals.
The resulted in a two-year contract extension for $13.5 million, but Francoeur slumped sharply in 2012 — batting .235 with 16 homers and 49 RBIs.