For weeks, Julio Franco had spoken privately of the need to find work elsewhere and the need to get enough at-bats to allow him to continue his career and reach his objective of playing at age 50. He was convinced remaining in what he considered a role more limited that he had anticipated would undermine his chances. He planned to ask for his release.
The Mets beat him to the punch, though; they designated him for assignment on Thursday as part of the midseason roster restructuring.
Some 5 1/2 weeks short of his 49th birthday, Franco now is a former Met. If no other club trades for him or claims him off waivers -- and the Mets don't reverse the process, which is quite unlikely -- he will become a free agent in 10 days and begin looking for a place where he will be likely to be given more opportunity to swing for 50.
Franco was pleased Thursday afternoon, but a little off balance. "I thought I would surprise them," he said by telephone, "But they surprised me. It's what I need to do, so that part is good for me."
Franco played sparingly in his 1 1/2 seasons with the Mets, starting seven games of the Mets' 87 games this season -- four at first base, two at third and one as the DH -- and batted .130 in 23 at-bats. His work as a pinch-hitter was more effective, seven hits in 26 at-bats, but all were singles.
He played in 95 games last season, starting 25, mostly at first base. He batted .273 with 26 RBIs in 165 at-bats and was disappointed by the number of opportunities.
Despite the disappointment, he considered seeking a contract extension during Spring Training. He never made the request, and when he found his playing time unsatisfactory, he reversed this thinking and weighed leaving.