As Jared posted earlier, the Jays signed the newly acquired RP, and potential closer, Frank Francisco to 1-year term worth $4,000,000. The signing is important as it allows both sides to avoid arbitration, allows Alex Anthopolous to concentrate on the lone and most important arbitration eligible player – Jose Bautista, and settles the last question mark about the bullpen in 2011. The signing is slightly closer to what the Rangers had offered Francisco before he was dealt, $190,000 below the mid-point, since they offered him $3.5 million, and he had countered with $4.88 million (numbers courtesy of MLBTR’s arbitration tracker).
Since the signing took place, everyone seems to be fine with the dollar value of the deal, but many fans have been wondering why the Jays were unable to sign him to at least a club option to go along with the 1-year. Some are even pondering whether they should have signed him to a 2-year deal from the start, in hopes of having a closer on the cheap for the 2012 season as well as for the 2011 season. Nobody can be blamed for either question, because Alex Anthopolous has proven to be agile in adding those options and setting up the Jays very well by allowing for flexibility in contracts. However, in my opinion, there are some very good reasons for not signing Francisco to a longer term than was necessary. Here they are in no order of importance:
The Never Ending Chase for More Draft Picks by Alex Anthopolous and His Scouting Team
Frank Francisco can provide similar returns for the Jays in 2012 than Grant Balfour has provided for the Rays this off season. What are the returns? Just take a peak at our updated 2011 draft order. The Rays will get a 1st round sandwich pick and a 2nd round pick, the 41st and 75th picks in the 2011 draft, for losing Balfour. Talk about a nice return! How much do you think Alex Anthopolous and his scouting staff would pay for those 2 picks? I’m guessing it’s more than $4,000,000, so investing that much in Francisco and getting a potential closer while they’re at it is a major discount on a whole.
- Why will Frank Francisco be a Type-A FA? Well, as indicated in the formula used for the Elias rankings, relievers only compete against other relievers that are also FA and the wins + saves category is heavily weighted. If Francisco gains the closing job as is expected, and you add in his low ERA and whip, and there’s no reason for Francisco to not become a Type-A (as long as he doesn’t have a horrible season or injury). The Jays also control 3 of his opponents in the chase for Type A status in Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor, and Octavio Dotel, 3 relievers that the Jays have options on for the 2012 season. If the Jays pick up those options, the competition for Francisco in the Elias rankings is lowered and he won’t have much in the way of competition according to the list of 2012 reliever FAs. So long as the Jays don’t resign him that off season, he should bring back 2 picks, or 1 at a minimum if he is relegated to Type-B status.
Frank Francisco is Not a Dominant Closer, Something the Jays Want in 2012 and Beyond
- The Jays will want to upgrade the closer position in 2012 if possible. The Jays could find themselves putting Zach Stewart or David Purcey in the role at some point in 2011 and liking one of those options more than keeping Francisco in the role. Frank Francisco, particularly if he has a semi-successful Kevin Gregg like 2011 season, sees himself as a closer. So, this signing serves both sides in that it maintains the option for the 2 to come to terms if they’re happy with the relationship and role of Francisco on the Jays, but it also allows them to pursue other avenues if that’s what they want. Sometimes it’s nice to have the opportunity for a clean break, particularly when draft picks can become a nice compensation for the loss.
Perhaps the most intriguing reason is the possible reunion of Jonathan Papelbon and John Farrell within the Blue Jays organization. I know that a lot of people are down on Papelbon at this point for various reasons, but he’d be about as sure of a thing as a closer for the Jays in 2012 and beyond as they could get. He would begin the 2012 season at 31, a year younger than Francisco will be at the time, and has a much more dominant track record than Francisco does. He already has 188 games saved after only 5 years in the role, and has a career 2.22 ERA and 1.033 whip. He knows the AL East like the back of his hand, loves to be in the spotlight, would surely love to get a chance to “get back” at the Red Sox for the way they’re throwing his name around as being “available” and not signing him to longer term deals. Over his career at Rogers Center, Papelbon holds a 1.59 ERA with a 1.059 whip and 12 saves, so he is definitely comfortable pitching in Toronto. With Francisco already on board, Papelbon may be a little more hesitant to come to Toronto for the 2012 season, particularly if Francisco had a great 2011. So, whether Francisco had a good 2011 or not, having him pitch elsewhere in 2012 allows for a spot to be open for Papelbon without having to assure him that the closing role would be his to keep.
The Jays Have a Ton of Pitching Depth in the Minors
The rotation is so strong that it may create the need to switch the roles of some pitchers in the minors to reliever. As has been said on this site, and others, many times of late, the Toronto Blue Jays have a ton of starting pitchers waiting for an opportunity to prove themselves in The Show. Not all are going to get that opportunity as starters, so many will be tried as relievers in the same way as David Purcey got that shot in 2010. If the Jays want to give such opportunities to pitchers like Zach Stewart, Brad Mills, Luis Perez, Joel Carreno, and others, it needs to have the space to do so. Add in injury returning Dustin McGowan – a long time favorite of many Jays fans to close in the future – and the reliever options like Alan Farina and Drew Permison to that mix, and you’ve got a ton of options coming up the ranks in the minors system. Giving some of these guys a chance makes the Jays cheaper overall and allows them to spend those saved funds on other areas.
Experience and Other Options in the Pen are Already Available to the Jays for 2012
- Assuming that they want to retain some experience on board, the Jays can resign one of – or a couple of – Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch, or Jason Frasor, and provide an opportunity for others to fill the holes left by those who are not asked to return. The fact that the Jays can already pick and chose which of the 3 experienced relievers just listed to bring back to the team in 2012 is already a major luxury that few teams have. They can look at which of them fits in best with their future plans and performed well in 2011, and keep that – or those – pitcher(s). That makes holding an option on Francisco a lot less necessary than it may have been before all 3 of these relievers were signed with options for 2012.
Francisco will be a FA after this season, as will fellow Jays reliever Shawn Camp. By allowing these 2 pitchers to leave in 2012, the Jays open up some spots for younger, cheaper, and more controllable options in the pen that can end up being just as – or more – effective for the 2012 season and beyond. The Jays can still attempt to sign either pitcher if they want during or after the 2011 season, but they now have the flexibility to make that decision when they’re ready to do so. Carlos Villanueva and Casey Janssen will both be arbitration eligible once again in 2012 and provide a nice safety net for the Jays in terms of depth in the pen and as spot starters if need be. If the Jays do intend on signing Jonathan Papelbon in 2012 or want to find a credible internal – and long term – option, there’s no reason to add an option to the Francisco deal, something that would have cost them a buyout amount of some sort to opt out of.
One final MAJOR issue not included above is that keeping Francisco on a 1-year term makes him an extremely attractive trade piece for the Jays to deal at the deadline if they fall out of contention. The acquiring team will also know that they can reap the benefits of draft picks in the off-season, and that they’ll get a guy who can close if need be at a cost of approximately $2 million for the 2nd half of the 2011 season. That could garner Alex Anthopolous a couple of prospects, or one highly rated one, something that he always seems to be chasing! A great example here would be the acquisition of Matt Capps the Minnesota Twins made from the Washington Nationals in July 2010, something that cost them prized catching prospect Wilson Ramos. Something of the sort would be a great return for Francisco, one that could help push the Jays to a new level in 2012 and address an immediate need in that lineup.
It was the right move to make by Alex Anthopolous and his staff. Although it adds some uncertainty to the closing situation in 2012 and beyond, it provides the most cost-effective roster flexibility and should result in future benefits (draft pick(s)) that are sometimes priceless.