Royals Sign Jeff Francis

In the early stages of a love affair, the object of your affection can do no wrong.  This, of course, changes over time, but before that blissful period erodes, you can gain an enormous amount of perspective on other people’s actions by asking yourself, “What if he/she had done that?”

At first glance, the Royals acquisition of North Delta, British Columbia’s own Jeff Francis at one year for $2 million (plus incentives) makes sense in a “there’s a hole, let’s fill it” way of thinking.  It appears to be a case of simple problem solving.  After trading Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City faced the prospect of starting the season with a rotation consisting of Kyle Davies, Luke Hochevar, Sean O’Sullivan, Vin Mazzaro and Zach Miner.  That rotation is awful enough to make the addition of Kevin Millwood not seem ridiculous.

But, after being so impressed with the Tampa Bay Rays recent transactions, to the point where this Blue Jays fan has been forced to cop to a weird inter-division, forbidden rival crush, I have to ask myself, “What if the Rays had done that?”

I know it’s hard to imagine Dayton Moore doing something right this offseason, given that:

  1. Matt Garza probably got a greater return than Zack Greinke,
  2. The Royals are paying money to have Jeff Francoeur play for them,
  3. The Royals are paying money to have Melky Cabrera play for them, and
  4. He may have declined a trade offer that would’ve sent Joakim Soria to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Eduardo Nunez.

But picking up Francis is a great decision.

After missing all of 2009 following shoulder surgery, it’s easy to look at Francis’ 5.00 ERA in just over 100 innings of work last season and dismiss him as a lost talent.  But let’s look a bit closer at those numbers and compare them to the rest of his career.

2010: 47.0% GB, 2.91 K/BB, 0.95 HR/9, 1.36 WHIP, 3.88 FIP, 5.00 ERA

Career: 43.2% GB, 2.10 K/BB, 1.11 HR/9, 1.43 WHIP, 4.46 FIP, 4.77 ERA.

In other words, Francis induced more ground balls, exhibited better control, kept the ball in the park, allowed fewer runners on base and was an overall better pitcher in his comeback year of 2010, than he has been over the course of his career.  The only blight is the high ERA, which appears to be the product of an abnormally low left on base percentage (batters were getting timely hits off of him).

Looking back through Francis’ career, he was steadily improving his numbers throughout his first four years in the league before regressing heavily in 2008.  The poor performance that season can largely be attributed to throwing through pain in his shoulder before finally seeking surgery to fix it.

While he’s likely not going to compete for the Cy Young award, Jeff Francis offers the Royals a very solid stop gap option that should have little difficulty becoming the team’s most reliable starter this season.  All that, for only $2 million represents a bargain normally reserved for the smarter teams in the league.  But in this instance, Dayton Moore comes out on top.