Neftali Feliz is ready to close games in the World Series and is a strong candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year Award, but it's easy to forget that he didn't even start the season as the Rangers' closer. That job belonged to Frank Francisco, who saved 25 games in 29 chances last season. He blew the save in his first two opportunities of the season and sported a double digit ERA in late-April, putting the ninth inning in Feliz's hands.
Francisco is set to hit the free agent market for the first time in his career in a few weeks, so let's break down his stock...
- After the rough start, Francisco was exceptionally strong as Feliz's setup man the rest of the way. After April 20th, he pitched to a 2.83 ERA with 56 strikeouts and just 13 unintentional walks in 47.2 innings.
- He's dominant, striking out 200 batters over the last three seasons (10.9 K/9) walking just 54 unintentionally (2.94 BB/9).
- As stated before, he has experience closing games, not mention familiarity with the setup role as well. Versatility is always a plus.
- Francisco finished the year on the disabled list due to a strained rib cage suffered in late August and hasn't been able to pitch in the playoffs. He also hit the disabled list twice in 2009 due to a shoulder strain, plus once more with a bout with walking pneumonia.
- He can be prone to the long ball, averaging one homer for just a touch over every nine innings pitched over the last three seasons. The Ballpark in Arlington has exacerbated that problem, his HR/9 on the road since 2008 is a much more managable 0.68.
- Francisco is projected to be a Type-A free agent, so if the Rangers offer him arbitration, a team would have to surrender a high pick to sign him.
Francisco's offseason is going to depend on whether or not the Rangers offer him arbitration. If they don't, his stock will be much higher because the stigma of forfeiting a high draft pick is gone. If they offer and he declines, he could find himself in a Juan Cruz circa 2008-2009 situation, where he's unemployed late into the offseason because no one feels he's worth giving up a pick. There's also a non-zero chance that Francisco would accept an arbitration offer, since an award would push him close to $4MM next year ($3.265MM salary in 2010). He might not be able to find that much money on the open market.
If Francisco does hit the market, perhaps his best course of action would be to take a one-year deal to serve as a non-contender's closer, building up his value so he could shoot for a multi-year guarantee next winter. He could also be a nice fallback option for a team breaking in a young and/or inexperienced closer.