Market Fresh: Jeff Francis


We’re about three weeks removed from the Zack Greinke trade and the Royals still don’t have any real inkling as to who might take the open spot in the pitching rotation.

There are some potential in-house options – Austin mentioned Robinson  Tejeda, Joakim Soria (who’ll be the subject of these discussion until he retires I’m sure), and minor leaguers Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery, Aaron Crow, Everett Teaford or John Lamb – as potential fits for the open spot.  Zach Miner, who signed a minor league contract, could be another option coming out of spring training.

Recently, the Royals have been mentioned in the list of teams that are vying for the services of former first round pick (9th overall in 2002) Jeff Francis.

So what about him?  Pros and cons?  Let’s look:

The main concern with Francis is his health.  Since the 2008 season, he’s missed almost 300 days due to repeated shoulder problems.  He had labrum surgery in 2009 and missed the entire season.  He 19 starts in 2010, logging 104.1 innings.  If the Royals were to sign him, there’s a reasonable likelihood that they’d be paying him to sit on the DL most or all of the season if he continued to have issues.

Is it worth all that trouble for a guy with a career 4.77 ERA in 882.2 innings?

6 Seasons55504.77149882.24681092876031001.4299.
Avg. (162)13114.773420110625651371001.4299.

I’ll offer a hesitant maybe on that question.  Francis turns 30 years old on Saturday, so that, plus his injury history, make me wary of signing him.

With that risk there’s a bit of reward.  Despite the injuries, if he could manage to stay healthy for 30 starts, he could chew up 180 innings for the Royals.  His walkrate has been consistently solid in the majors and while his strikeout rate isn’t great, it’s still better than what Brian Bannister had put up in a Royals uniform.  Francis gave up an average amount of homers while pitching most of his innings in Coors Field, humidor or not, so moving to a larger stadium may help make that an above average statistic.  If he were somehow able to get his H/9 back to 2006 levels, he could be a very useful pitcher.

My hunch is that while the Royals are saying they’ll look at Duffy, Crow and Teaford in spring training, it’s not very likely any of the three will start the year with the big league club.  Duffy missed the first half of the season, and while he’s among the top prospects in the system, that lost time still counts.  Teaford will probably be asked to show that his strikeout rate of 2010 wasn’t a fluke with some starts in Triple A, and Crow was demoted in July to High A Wilmington after struggling with command for Northwest Arkansas.  That’d be a hell of a jump.

Francis is the type of pitcher a team like the Royals is likely to target.  Last week, before he signed with the Mets, I advocated the signing of lefty Chris Capuano.  The former Brewer signed for a base salary of $1.5 million with incentives.  Like Francis, Capuano has had his share of injuries, though he’s dealt with elbow issues rather than shoulder problems.  Because a shoulder injury is more risky than an elbow injury (though neither are good), I’d say a similar, perhaps lower, base salary would be fair for Francis.

Since he has other suitors (reportedly), the Royals couldn’t sneak him into camp on a minor league deal, but a $1 million deal with incentives and maybe a team option wouldn’t be out of line.  If he can reach 170 innings, tack on another $500,000.  He’s not going to be much more of a liability than anyone else the Royals might use, and he’d be much more affordable than Kevin Millwood would be.

The Royals have also been linked to Carl Pavano, but recent reports say that he’s close to a two year deal with the Twins and the Royals would probably have to go to three years to get him.  He’d be more reliable than Francis, sure, but he’d be a bigger drain on payroll and a longer commitment too.  While a one year deal might block somebody who could be on the fast track to Kansas City, a three year deal would no doubt cause some problems in that area.  Pavano is also a Type A free agent who refused arbitration, so the Royals would lose a draft pick by signing him.  That’s just not worth it.

So my call is to see if Francis would sign for a cool million with the chance to showcase his health.  After a year, if he’s shown he can handle the rigors of a full baseball season again, the Royals could exercise his option.  If his shoulder can’t hold up or he’s ineffective, the Royals let him go.  Simple as that.  If another team wants to beat such an offer, then more power to them.

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