Canadian pitcher Jeff Francis has a new team and contract, just not a guaranteed job.
His reported minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds includes an invitation to spring training and a base salary of $1.5 million US if he makes the big-league roster, with the chance to earn an additional $1.725 million in performance bonuses that could put the total payout at $3.25 million.
Cracking the Reds’ starting rotation out of spring training could be a challenge for Francis since the Vancouver native appears to be sixth on the depth chart behind Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey.
There’s also the possibility of hard-throwing Cuban reliever Aroldis Chapman becoming a starter, although with Francis’s arrival that could make manager Dusty Baker’s decision easier.
It’s believed Francis, 30, also will have the ability to opt out of the contract on March 28, prior to the end of spring training in Phoenix.
In January 2011, the left-hander signed a one-year, $2 million free-agent contract with the Kansas City Royals and went on to win six games in 31 starts while making $3.65 million including incentive bonuses.
Francis didn’t shut the door on a return to Kansas City earlier this winter, but those plans were dashed once the Royals re-signed Bruce Chen and acquired fellow lefty Jonathan Sanchez in a trade with San Francisco.
At the time, Francis was linked to Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Seattle.
He posted a 4.82 earned-run average in 2011, but more importantly, remained healthy for a full season after missing the entire 2009 campaign following surgery to repair a torn labrum in the shoulder joint.
Francis logged 183 innings, the most since 2007 when he won 17 games and helped the Colorado Rockies reach the World Series.
“I learned a lot about keeping myself healthy and, working with Mac [former Royals pitching coach Bob McClure], I learned more about what I can do on the mound to be successful: how to pitch to hitters, how to work with my teammates on learning what they do and vice-versa,” Francis, who tailored his shoulder strengthening program to handle the increased innings and maintain arm strength built last off-season, told CBCSports.ca in October.
A few years removed from surgery, Francis is no longer the pitcher who throws 90 miles per hour for most of a game. He’s in the 85-87 range, Lindell said, making him a nice complement to a starting rotation of hard-throwing right-handers. All five of the aforementioned projected Reds starters throw from the right side.
In October, Lindell noted Francis would be better served if he was the third or fourth guy in the rotation rather than at the front of the rotation like he was in Kansas City, where he often was matched up against reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers and other top pitchers in the Central Division.
In his current situation, any job in the rotation for Francis would suffice.