Pending Option Spotlight: Jeff Francis

Once again, the Colorado Rockies rotation was among the best in baseball. ranking fifth in team FIP and fouth in team xFIP. The major factor for the Rockies was the 221 excellent innings thrown by Ubaldo Jimenez, but they received contributions from up and down the rotation, most notably from Jhoulys Chacin, Esmil Rogers, Jason Hammel, and, finally, Jeff Francis.

Francis missed the first 36 games of 2010 as part of recovery from a 2009 shoulder surgery which cost him the entire 2009 season. He pitched through August before suffering another injury to that shoulder which kept him out for much of the month and the first week of September. When Francis did pitch, though, he was solid, recording a 3.88 FIP and a 3.94 xFIP. Uncharacteristic struggles with runners on base (64.5% LOB) resulted in a 5.00 ERA, which may lead the Rockies and other clubs to believe that Francis took a step back in 2010.

The poor results may be one reason that the Rockies are likely to decline Francis’s $7 million option for 2011. More likely, it’s the fact that injuries have limited Francis to 248 innings from 2008-2010 that has the Rockies balking at the idea of guaranteeing a salary that calls for multiple WAR in 2011. The Rockies will look to bring Francis back, but there’s a good chance that other teams will be in the mix as well.

Starting pitchers are always a sought after commodity, and 2011 should be no different, particularly given how thin the free agent market is after Cliff Lee. The Brewers appear to be the most obvious target for Francis outside of Colorado, as their rotation is a complete question mark beyond Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson. Most teams can use starting pitching depth and Francis has the ability to put up 2+ WAR next season, so other teams could jump in as well, but Milwaukee appears to be the best fit as of right now.

The Rockies are seeing some of their best players – most notably Troy Tulowitzki and Ubaldo Jimenez – receive raises this year as they move towards free agency. Their payroll in 2010 was nearly $10 million higher then its previous high. Between the¬†elevating payroll¬†and the depth of their pitching staff, retaining Francis at a risky $7 million may not be in their best interests, even though he’s basically a lock to provide that kind of value if he starts even 20-25 games. As other teams won’t be under these same kind of payroll constraints, Francis is likely to receive a deal that the Rockies can’t afford this offseason. With a rotation of Jimenez, Chacin, Rogers, Hammel, and Aaron Cook, the Rockies will be fine, even though they may take a step down from 2010.

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While Francis may have respectable peripherals, I’d envision him as maybe taking a contract like Penny did with the Red Sox (i.e. 5m + some playing time incentives). He’s proved his health better than Penny had, but Penny also had more upside. Is anybody likely to go much higher than that? Because otherwise I’d think the Rockies would re-up him.