On Friday, it was announced that the Royals had signed free agent pitcher Jeff Francis to a one year contract reported to be worth $2m in guaranteed money and another $2m in incentives. Earlier in his career, the lefty was looked at as a potential ace for the Colorado Rockies. Major shoulder trouble and subsequent surgery caused him to miss the entire 2009 season. He was linked to seven different teams this offseason, however reports on his recovery and the fact he stumbled later in the 2010 season probably pushed teams away.
After trading Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers, there was at least one opening in the starting rotation. That, combined with the unlikelihood of the Royals competing for a Divison title in 2011 allowed them to offer something that other teams likely couldn’t: a chance to start every fifth day, as long as he’s healthy. Francis joins Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur as former top prospects who are joining the Royals on one year contracts to prove to the league that they are worth signing to a longer contract. If one or more of these “show me” contract guys actually produces in 2011, then the Royals can also flip them at the deadline for prospects, much like they did with a number of players at the end of 2010. There’s potential value for both sides in these kinds of deals.
Francis will be moving from one of the most hitter friendly parks in Coors Field to one of the more pitcher friendly parks at Kauffman. He’s primarily a ground ball pitcher who has a low walk rate and a moderate strike out rate. If he’d have been on the Royals last year, his walk rate would’ve been second only to Grienke among starting pitchers. At $2m guaranteed, there is really no risk for the Royals here and potentially some real upside. There really isn’t much to dislike about this deal. Francis will also be reunited with his old pitching coach Bob McClure who was a worked for the Colorado Rockies organization from 1999-2005, four of which were with the AAA Colorado Springs team which Francis pitched for in 2004.
This sort of free agent signing is becoming part of Dayton Moore’s modus operandi as of late. He likes former big time prospects who’ve fallen on tough times or struggled and are looking for one last chance to make it. He gives them a one year deal with incentives or options and gives them an opportunity to play. From what I’ve been able to glean from quotes and from his actions, Dayton is a believer in tools. He wants guys that are athletic if unproven. I’d guess that he believes that his instructors can teach baseball skills, but they can’t teach athleticism. I agree with him. However with athletic toolsy players, you run the risk that they’ll never figure out the baseball part of the equation and will eventually flame out.
Polished baseball guys who may be less toolsy but can play the game of baseball (think Willie Bloomquist) are usually more steady and predictable. However, their upside is almost always limited. Guys with off the charts athleticism (Jason Heyward, Rick Ankiel, etc) can be potential stars if (and it’s a big if) they can figure out the baseball part. With that kind of potential risk, a team can’t just bank on a couple of toolsy guys to bust out, instead you have to have a bunch that you can throw against the wall to see who will stick. Again, that’s what Dayton has been doing lately.
At the Major League level he’s brought in Francouer, Cabrera, Betemit, Cain, Francoeur, Jeffress and Francis. All of them have been highly thought of prospects who are in general freakish atheletes. Likely a couple of these guys will pan out, and will contribute to the team or be fodder for another trade. It’s a risk well worth taking at this point where the Royals are. What baffles me is why it’s taken this long to start doing this.
The bottom line is I like the acquisition of Jeff Francis by itself, but I like that it’s another piece of evidence which points to Dayton Moore making better decisions at the Major League level.