Jeff Francis is a free agent starting pitcher who has played his entire career with the Colorado Rockies. As the thin market for pitchers has thinned even more, he has started to draw some interest. He’s a lefty with a couple of strong seasons under his belt, and is only 30 this year. So why hasn’t he garnered more interest to this point?
Well, Francis isn’t exactly a stud pitcher, with his career ERA of 4.77 and an ERA of at 5.00/5.01 in the last 2 seasons he pitched. But take a look at what he did in 2006-2007, he was a leader on the Rockies staff and posted a 4.19 ERA over those 2 seasons, with a 2.14 K/BB. He kept the ball on the ground and was effective. But shoulder problems in 2008 led to surgery and a missed 2009 season. Last year his comeback didn’t start until May, which is useful to explain away some of his rust. Promisingly in 2010, his groundball rate increased over 2008, to a rate higher than his best seasons.
For many teams, the risk on Francis may not be worth it. He doesn’t project as much more than a 5th starter at best on some teams that have shown interest, like the Yankees, the Rangers, the Rockies and the Mets. But a few teams, the Nats included, could probably pencil him somewhere in the 3rd or 4th starter range. And if a fully healthy Francis goes back to his 06-07 form, where he was just starting to hit maturity, you could dream of him as a #2, as Baseball Prospectus declared in 2007, pre-shoulder injury. He’s not an ace, and never will be. But the upside leads you to be able to imagine him as a #3 or so, if you can look past the 5.00 ERA in last season’s recovery from shoulder surgery.