The report just came through the wire that the Royals have signed former Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis. Francis ranked as the top non-Cliff-Lee pitcher when I looked at the best free agent signing possibilities for the Royals a while back. Mike recently profiled Francis as a likely target for the Royals. It’s clear that Francis has been a potential target for a while.
Needless to say, I like this signing. The contract value isn’t clear yet* and Francis has to pass his physical before the signing is official. Still, I see very few issues with this signing. I’ll lay those out before I gush over what this could mean for the Royals in 2011.
*The signing was for $2 million with another $2 million in incentives, according to Jerry Crasnick. That’s great news. Absolutely impressed with that value.
Since we don’t yet know the value, the biggest issue is that Dayton Moore signed Francis for way more than he needed to. I’m thinking in the $9-11 million range. That’s unnecessary and Francis hasn’t shown that he’s worth that kind of money. Of course, it really doesn’t hurt the Royals in any way. It’s a one-year deal and the money will be off the books in 2012, just like basically all of the other money currently in the payroll. Still, overpaying would be the worst possible issue here.
The next problem is if Francis comes in and essentially does nothing. Maybe his injury is aggravated and he needs further surgery. Maybe he just isn’t effective as an AL starter. There is a long list of potential problems that could plague Francis and the Royals, essentially souring the deal. Still, that is true for basically any starting pitcher, so it’s mostly a cautionary tale.
No, this signing is a good one for the Royals. I’d even venture to say it’s a great signing. Francis is a couple years removed from arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, but had a solid season in 2010. He threw 104.1 innings, striking out 67 and walking 23. Francis isn’t a heavy strikeout pitcher, but he does induce groundballs fairly well, sticking in the 43-46% range for his career. That’s good for a 1.46 groundball/flyball ratio in 2010, which will play well with the Royals’ improved infield defense. That ratio would have been 0.01 behind Bryan Bullington for the best of the 2010 Royals starters.
Now, you may look at Francis’ stats and say, “Well, he had a 5.00 ERA in 2010.” That’s true, but his BABIP was a bloated .322, which is revealed in his 3.88 FIP. That FIP, by the way, would have been the third-best among Royals’ starters that pitched more than one start in 2010 behind Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar. Francis is no slouch and gives the 2011 Royals rotation a much-needed boost.
Francis is a left-handed pitcher and his splits are what you would expect. Right-handed batters have traditionally hit him better than lefties. If you look at his 2010 stats, that was actually backwards, but over his career the splits are normal. It’s nothing too pronounced, but something to be aware of, as always.
What we have here is a signing that doesn’t seem to hurt the Royals in any way. They needed another starter and got one in a guy that is looking to reclaim a little clout in the league. He’s going to want to compete at a high level and show he’s capable. That could give the Royals quite a bit of help and hopefully give the bullpen some extra rest, though he averaged just over 5 innings per outing in 2010. Being further removed from the arm surgery should help his longevity and stamina going into 2011, so that average of 5 innings per start could definitely see an increase. With the rest of the starters the way they are, that won’t be too out of line for the Royals rotation. You’d hope for it to be a bit better, but I’ll give it a pass for now.
The other good things that could come from this signing are a midseason trade or gaining a 2012 draft pick if the Royals fail to resign Francis after the season. I would personally rather they just let him walk, but if they get attached and he performs well, I won’t be too hurt given a reasonable contract. If Francis performs well during the season, as I think he will, he’ll be able to bring a young hitter or two back to the Royals via a midseason trade. We saw that in action this past season, and a potential combination with Jeff Francoeur or Melky Cabrera, or another more established Royal, could net a solid return. That’s the best case scenario.
While that might not happen, you can’t say that this really hurts the Royals in any way. Their young starting prospects really aren’t ready yet and should get a bit more time to prepare for their eventual Kansas City appearances. The other starting candidates within the organization were Zach Miner, Luis Mendoza, Gaby Hernandez, and Blaine Hardy, so there wasn’t too much to pick from anyway. If one or two guys is knocking on the door come midseason, the Royals can trade either Francis or another pitcher if they aren’t injured, and open spots for prospects. Like I say, it doesn’t hurt anything.
I heartily approve of this signing, Dayton, and send you my well-wishes for finding a solid pitcher to bring in. Thanks for giving us something else to talk about and look forward to.