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Royals add lefty Francis on one-year deal

Royals add lefty Francis on one-year deal

Royals add lefty Francis on one-year deal
KANSAS CITY -- The Royals' probable starting rotation looked more complete on Friday with the signing of free agent Jeff Francis, a 6-foot-5 left-hander.

Francis signed a one-year contract for 2011 at $2 million plus performance bonuses, pending a physical examination. He missed the entire 2009 season after surgery to his left shoulder but returned last year to pitch 20 games for the Colorado Rockies.

He's expected to step into a rotation that was left with a big gap when Zack Greinke was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers last month.

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Francis, 30, had spent his entire seven-year Major League career with the Rockies, compiling a 55-50 record with a 4.77 ERA in 150 games. He was the ace of the Rockies' 2007 World Series club with a 17-9 record in 34 starts.

"Our medical team is comfortable with where he is," general manager Dayton Moore said. "He pitched last year and finished the season on the active list. Your first year back you're always going to have some potential uncertainties, but those fears have been removed and we're very comfortable moving forward and having him as part of our rotation."

In his return to the Rockies last year, Francis made 19 starts and finished with a 4-6 record, a 5.00 ERA and "a bit of shoulder soreness" at the end. But he reported that the shoulder is fine now.

"I've been feeling really good," Francis said. "I've been able to do everything I wanted to up to this point in the offseason, so I'm where I'd want to be in any other year."

Francis reportedly also was sought by other teams, including the New York Yankees. His $2 million base salary represents a considerable drop from the $5.75 million he received last year from the Rockies, although the performance bonuses could add $2 million to his take.

His superb 2007 season was part of the Rockies' dramatic rush to the World Series. Including the playoffs, they won 21 of their last 22 games before losing four straight to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Francis started the first game of all three postseason rounds, finishing 2-1.

"We had a team similar to the Royals now. A few years before that, there were a lot of young guys that were given the opportunity to play and it paid off," Francis said. "And that year we went on a run that I don't think has been repeated and would be tough to duplicate. ... It's the reason you play baseball, for moments like that."

Francis believes the Kansas City organization has a chance to mirror Colorado's success.

"From everything I've been able to learn, they certainly have the talent available. It's on its way up and the organization has taken the steps necessary to foster that," he said. "I'd say they're on a similar path that Colorado was five or six years ago. From everything I've seen, it can be done."

A first-round selection and ninth overall in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft by the Rockies, the native of Vancouver, B.C., surfaced in the Majors in August 2004. That season he was 16-3 with a 2.21 ERA at two Minor League stops and was named Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA Today.

From 2005-07, Francis won 44 games in three seasons for the Rockies.

"He has a lot of pitching skills and has a history of keeping the ball down and disrupting the timing of the hitters," Moore said. "He's a very good competitor and has been a part of championship teams. We expect him to fit in and take the ball every fifth day."

He figures to join a rotation that, at the moment, includes four right-handers in Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, Vin Mazzaro and Sean O'Sullivan.

"It fits in well, and obviously, [pitching coach] Bob McClure has a long relationship with him from their past time in Colorado," Moore said.

McClure formerly coached in the Rockies' organization and had Francis at the Triple-A level.

Despite his formidable size -- 220 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame -- Francis does not have an overpowering fastball.

"Jeff is not a thrower, Jeff is a pitcher," McClure said.

Francis has the ability to keep his pitches down in the strike zone and throws strikes consistently. In 2007, for example, he had 165 strikeouts against 63 walks in 215 1/3 innings.

"He's like your Tom Glavines -- he's more about location, changing speeds," McClure said. "He keeps the ball basically at the bottom of the zone. We're talking about somebody who knows how to pitch."

Francis counts McClure, also a left-hander in his playing days, as a prime reason for his development.

"I think Mac was a similar type of pitcher, so when I got to work with him, he offered a lot of help, not only with mechanical things, but the way a game evolves and the approach a pitcher needs to take on the mound," Francis said. "Mac can take the game to another level."

The Royals have had few left-handers in their rotation for sustained periods in the last five years. Bruce Chen joined the rotation two months into last season and wound up with a club-best 12 victories. Odalis Perez made 26 starts and Jorge De La Rosa made 23 in 2007 and Mark Redman was 11-10 in 2006. But there haven't been many.

"It's a great addition to rounding out our rotation," McClure said. "Being left-handed is a definite attribute, too, because there are a lot of good left-handed hitters in the league."

In his career, Francis has held left-handed batters to a .260 average compared to .288 by right-handed batters.

Although Moore said the Royals would continue to scan the market for pitchers, the acquisition of Francis helps fill the club's most urgent need -- starting pitching. It also likely lessens their interest in Chen, who is a free agent.

McClure believes that Francis also will have a positive influence in the clubhouse which, in Spring Training, will be populated by a large number of young left-handed pitching prospects.

"Getting good character people that can really compete is a huge step, I think, as far as rounding out a baseball club," McClure said. "You're always going to have your renegades here and there, but the more character guys that are all pulling on the ropes the same way, the faster your organization steps toward winning."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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