Potential Off-Season Targets: Frank Francisco

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With the 2011 season over, the old saying, “There’s always next season,” instantly becomes all Mets fan’s credo. But before we can think about riding the 7-train out to Flushing again, there is a whole off-season to project and pontificate about. Considering the amount of holes the Mets will have, this coming off-season holds a lot of importance.

In this new on-going series, Rising Apple will analyze potential off-season targets for the New York Mets. Today’s target at-hand is free agent reliever Frank Francisco.

Frank Francisco might be more well-known for wielding a folding chair than a 95 MPH fastball, but don’t let that distract you from his talent as a late-inning reliever. The former Texas Rangers first became a bullpen presence in 2008 when he hurled an impressive 3.13 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 3.19 K/BB in 63.3 innings. While the big righty’s 3.7 BB/9 was a tad above league-average levels, the flame-thrower also sat down batters at an incredible 11.8 K/9 rate (which was fifth best in the MLB).

In 2009, Francisco was finally given a full-time shot at closing games–which he did successfully (25 for 29 in save opportunities). His 3.83 ERA was elevated from the season before, but he also reduced his walks from 3.7 BB/9 to a very respectable 2.7 BB/9. However the Rangers prematurely removed Francisco from the role in 2010 when the reliever posted a dismal 27.00 ERA, 5.00 WHIP, and 1.5 K/BB in his first three appearances. Despite owning a dominating 2.84 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 3.56 K/BB the rest of the way, youngster Neftali Feliz had already established himself as the Rangers “closer of the future.”

With Feliz in tow, the Rangers packaged Francisco with some cash, and sent him to the Blue Jays in exchange for Mike Napoli before the 2011 season. The trade was an obvious win for the Rangers, as Napoli swatted a .320/.414/.631 line with 30 homeruns, 75 RBI, and 72 runs, but Francisco too proved to be a valuable asset, posting a 3.55 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 2.94 K/BB, and 17 Saves in 50.6 innings. Granted, the righty’s BB/9 was back to league average levels (3.2 BB/9), and his usually high-shelf K/9 shrank a bit (from 10.3 K/9 in 2010 to 9.4 K/9), but his low 3.55 ERA was supported by his .300 BABIP and 3.36 xFIP. In addition, switching from the AL West to the AL East had an obvious affect on his HR/9, as the righty surrendered about 57% of his homeruns against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

According to Fan Graphs, Frank Francisco has been worth an average of $4.475 million per season since 2008, with 2011 being his least valuable season (only worth $2 million), and 2008 being his most valuable ($6.7 million). But even with the 32 year old’s notable closing experience, Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Nathan, and even Jonathan Broxton will garner more attention in the free agent closers market. Given the closer void in the Mets bullpen, signing Francisco to a one-year deal could be doable and prudent, as he could also be used in the eighth inning if the Mets were to nab Joe Nathan as well.

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