Who: Ben Francisco, No. 8. Outfielder. Hits right, throws right. 6’1", 190 LBS. 30 years old. Five MLB seasons in Cleveland and Philadelphia. 460 games played.
Provenance: Santa Ana, California. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2002 amateur draft by Cleveland out of UCLA. Acquired by the Blue Jays on December 12, 2011 for minor league pitcher Frank Gailey.
Contract Status: Signed one-year, $1.57 million deal to avoid arbitration in the offseason. One year or arbitration eligibility remaining.
Career Stats: .260 AVG, .332 OBP, .430 SLG, .762 OPS in 1514 plate appearances. 45 home runs, 174 runs driven in.
2011 Stats: .244 AVG, .340 OBP, .364 SLG, .704 OPS in 100 games with the Phillies. Six homers, 24 runs scored, 36 runs driven in in 293 plate appearances.
Nagging Feelings As This Piece Is Being Written: Either Francisco gets released within three days of it being posted, or that he is on the team for the full season.
Looking Back: Given the minor role that we figure Ben Francisco will play this season, we’ve spent entirely too much time trying to figure him out. Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that there’s a reason to consider his potential contributions. This is the madness of spring.
On the one hand, Francisco posted his career best in on-base percentage last season, as his walk rate jumped up to 11.3% and he dropped his strikeout rate to 14.3%. But on the other hand, his slugging percentage dipped 80 points below his career average as he stole at bats from super-prospect Domonic Brown through the first half of the season.
He’s also been used as a defensive replacement over his years in Philly, but a look through the defensive metrics show a player whose glovework can only be considered an upgrade when compared to Pat Burrell or Raul Ibanez (career UZR/150 of -6.3). He also hasn’t played centre field on a regular basis since 2009, when he posted a grim -4.3 UZR in 322.2 innings. So the notion floated after the trade that Francisco could be a super outfield sub seems to be a bit overenthusiastic.
Francisco’s best season to date sits three years in the past, as he posted a .779 OPS in a season split between the Indians and Phillies. He hit five homers in 104 plate appearances after the trade, but never improved beyond that in his subsequent seasons.
Looking Forward: Much as Eric Thames and Travis Snider are competing for a starting spot in left field, it would seem to us that Francisco’s spot on the 25-man roster will depend on his ability to stave off Rajai Davis.
Neither are exemplary fielders, but they could both be squeezed into some spot duty if the need arises. At the plate, Francisco generally makes fewer outs and hits the ball harder than Davis, but won’t offer the speed off the bench in a pinch-running role.
If it comes down to a dollars and cents decision, the fact that the Jays have more money staked on Davis – not to mention an option year for 2013 – makes Francisco the lesser option. It’s plausible that the Jays could decide to carry only one infielder on their bench or six pitchers in their bullpen in order to retain both players, but there are a fair number of moves in this slide puzzle before we get to that point.
2012 Expectations: Our former blogmate The Ack came up with the term “Mencherson”, lovingly named for the undistinguished and indistinguishable outfield platoon of Brad Wilkerson and Kevin Mench. Should Francisco manage to make the team out of Spring Training, he’d be almost a certain shoo-in to be inducted into the Menchersonian Insititute of Middling Outfield Bench/Platoon Players.
The upside could be a decent bat who might find something magical in his swing through an apprenticeship with Dwayne Murphy. And a player who can post an OPS in the mid-.700’s is still useful, if uninspiring. Plus, he offers insurance in case of an injury late in the preseason to one of the putative starting outfielders.
But it seems to us that the most likely scenario has Ben Francisco wearing another uniform before the air is warm.