We've all gotten pretty used to Dayton Moore making some terrible free agent decisions. Actually, it's pretty much the only thing Royals fans know. So when word came out that he had signed former Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis for 2m plus incentives, it was a bit surprising. Not only was Francis not a former member of the Braves - something that had always seemed to be a Dayton Moore prerequisite - he didn't overpay by millions of dollar either.
Obviously Francis wasn't exactly the cream of the free agent crop, but while many have wondered where pitchers trying rebuild value off injury such as Brandon Webb, Chris Young, and Justin Duchscherer would land, Francis is perhaps the safest bet of the bunch.
Of course Francis comes with plenty of red flags. After pitching through shoulder soreness for much of the 2008 season, and struggling in the process, Francis finally succumbed and underwent arthroscopic surgery on his pitching arm that caused him to miss the entirety of the 2009 season and the first part of 2010. On the surface there might not seem to be much to indicate he'd return to form given his 5.00 ERA last year, but a quick look at his rate stats shows that underneath the ugly ERA was the Francis of old. Compare if you would his career rate stats against those he posted in 2010.
Career: 6.15K - 2.13BB - 43.2%GB
2010: 5.78K - 1.98BB - 47.0%GB
That pitching formula - despite the ugly ERA - actually produced Francis' best FIP (3.88) and xFIP (3.94) metrics ever. If that ground ball rate is less of an aberration and more of a new fact of Francis' post surgery pitching reality, it's possible he could actually be a better pitcher than the one he was prior.
The signing isn't entirely dissimilar from the one the Tigers made of Brad Penny. While neither pitcher is a lock to be a significant improvement on options already available internally, they both have ample upside to turn in very good seasons, and good reasons to expect that they will.
While the Tigers signing of Penny was motivated by a desire to add depth and potentially acquire a veteran innings eater for the back of their rotation, the Royals likely have other interests. In the Royals case, should Francis turn in a strong 2011 as I expect he will, he should be a strong candidate for a mid-season trade that could net the Royals still more prospects to add to their already overflowing Minor League depth. Or the Royals could let the season play out in the hope that he could net them a draft pick or two in free agent compensation.
In either case, the Royals win. They've added a capable arm who can help them win games in 2010, and bought themselves an inexpensive lottery ticket that has a good chance of coming up a prospect winner. And even if Francis flops, at just 2m, they can't lose.
It's a strange thing to see in Royal-land, but it can be a beautiful thing when a signing makes sense.