OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 16: Jeff Francis #26 of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on June 16, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
When the Royals signed Jeff Francis to a one-year deal worth two million dollars this off season, many Royals fans were cautiously optimistic about the signing. Francis was viewed as a low-risk, high-reward guy that could be moved at the trade deadline if he performed well, but would be cheap enough that if he performed poorly it would not be detrimental to the team.
From 2005-2007, Francis was a good pitcher for the Rockies, racking up 2.2, 3.6, and 4.1 fWAR, respectively. His best season was the 2007 campaign, and he helped lead Colorado to the World Series. Jeff did struggle in 2008, but it was revealed that he was battling shoulder issues for much of the season. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, which caused him to miss the 2009 season and the first six weeks of the 2010 campaign. Francis started twenty games last season, and was worth 1.9 fWAR.
In fifteen games this season, Francis 3-7 with a 4.83. His peripherals suggest he has been a better pitcher; his FIP is 4.08. The ZiPS projection system predicts that Francis will perform a little better as the season continues. Jeff is predicted to have a 4.38 ERA and a 3.82 FIP the rest of the season. Francis has accumulated 1.3 fWAR in a little under half a season, and if he pitches a little better as the season continues, we could expect Francis to be worth around one win above replacement if he is moved around the deadline. Major League Teams have valued wins at around five million dollars per win this season, and Francis would have a little under one million dollars left on his contract. So if the Royals decide to pay the rest of his contract, he would be worth around five million excess dollars to a team; if they decide to make the other team take the contract, he would be worth around four million excess dollars.
What teams might be interested in Jeff Francis? Many teams are looking to improve pitching, and it's difficult to predict what teams might need a starter in a month. Teams that have thin rotation depth will probably look into our favorite Canadian, especially if a starter starts to struggle and/or gets hurt. The Yankees don't have great rotation depth, but they might set their sights higher than Francis. The Cardinals may be interested in another starter, especially if Jake Westbrook continues to struggle or if McClellan/Loshe get hurt again. The Diamondbacks have only had three consistent starters, and may want Francis' veteran presence on a fairly young staff. The Indians could also use another starter, and the Rockies may want to re-acquire Francis with all of the starting pitching injuries they have suffered. So there appears be a decent sized market for his services.
The problem with Francis is that there are a lot of pitchers similar to him, many pitchers on bad teams could be worth one win the last half of the season. Jeff could be marketed as a former "ace" with playoff experience, which teams presumably would like, but he currently lives and dies by the batted ball. His K/9 this season is only 4.24, and while it is expected improvet, it still won't be dominant. He doesn't walk a lot of batters, and does a decent job of keeping the ball on the ground and in the park, so he isn't likely to blow up on a team. Since there are a number of pitchers similar to him, it will probably be difficult to get the full four or five million dollars worth of value that he is expected to produce. The Royals, however, should still be able to acquire a decent prospect or prospects for him.
According to Victor Wang's research, a "B" hitting prospect is worth around 5.5 million dollars. So in the best case scenario, the Royals could grab a B- hitting prospect from a team if they payed the rest of his contract. For context, Johnny Giavotella is considered a B- hitting prospect by John Sickels. More likely, however, is that the Royals pick up a couple of C+ or C pitching and hitting prospects. For the Royals, think of picking up a player like Will Smith or David Lough, possibly paired with Derrick Robinson or Blaine Hardy. This would be around 3 or 4 million dollars in value depending on the age of the two players. I feel like that this deal is much more likely and would still be fair for the Royals and whatever team they trade with.
There have been players similar to Francis that have been traded in the past couple of seasons. Ted Lilly was sent last season with Ryan Theriot to the Dodgers, and the Cubs received Blake DeWitt and two minor league pitchers, who were graded a C+ and C, respectively. In 2008 Randy Wolf was sent from the Padres to the Astros, and the Padres received 26-year-old Chad Reineke, who was in AAA and apparently deserved a call-up from the Astros. In 2007, Matt Morris was randomly traded from the Giants to the Pirates, so maybe a non-contender who thinks they can contend next year will trade for Francis (Morris is right-handed, but his numbers were similar to Francis). In return, the Giants received Rajai Davis, who is currently on the Rockies.
In summary, I feel like there is a pretty good chance the Royals move Francis before the deadline. All though our starting pitching rotation is horrible, we certainly have enough pitchers to fill those innings. There should be a market for Francis, and the Royals should be able to get something worthwhile in return. The only reason Moore might hold onto Francis is if he wants to re-sign him this off season to help our rotation next season, because Francis is not expected to qualify as a Type B Free Agent. My rather arbitrary prediction is that there is a 85% chance Francis gets moved, and I think the Royals should trade him.