Blue Jays acquire Francisco for Napoli
Righty reliever will compete with Rauch, Dotel for closer's role
TORONTO -- In another surprise move, the Blue Jays traded catcher Mike Napoli to the Rangers on Tuesday for right-hander Frank Francisco and cash considerations.
Francisco provides Toronto with yet another power arm at the back end of its bullpen. The 31-year-old went 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA and two saves in 56 relief appearances last year in Texas.
The Dominican native is expected to compete for the closer's role with fellow right-handers Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel. One of general manager Alex Anthopoulos' top priorities this offseason was improving his relief corps, and at least on paper, it appears to be mission accomplished.
"I've seen a lot of seasons spiral out of control because of a weak bullpen," Anthopoulos said. "Having depth in that bullpen is going to be vital for us. Knowing that we'll be seven [pitchers] deep and there will be a good competition should be very reassuring to our starters and ultimately should allow us to win the games we're supposed to win."
Francisco became a Type A free agent at the end of the season, and his ranked status scared off several teams that were unwilling to part with a first-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft to sign him. He decided to accept arbitration with the Rangers instead of continuing to explore his options on the open market.
The six-year veteran is asking for $4.875 million, while Texas countered with an offer of $3.5 million. Francisco is 17-15 with 32 saves and a 3.75 ERA, including 315 strikeouts over 283 1/3 innings, during his career.
"He has a power arm with a plus fastball, plus slider," Anthopoulos said of his newest addition. "He had experience closing in a very tough park to pitch in with 25 saves. We've always admired him from afar, and we think we has tremendous ability and obviously the ability to pitch in a lot of roles."
The trade comes just four days after the Blue Jays acquired Napoli from the Angels as part of a deal for center fielder Vernon Wells. Napoli posted a .238 average with a career-high 26 home runs and 68 RBIs last season with the Halos.
Napoli had been expected to spend time at catcher, first base and designated hitter in Toronto, but Anthopoulos said he always had an idea that a second deal might be possible.
"I was aware that multiple teams asked about Mike in trades," Anthopoulos said of his negotiations with the Angels. "I had been talking on and off with the Rangers' general manager, Jon Daniels, about acquiring Frank, and once we made the Vernon Wells trade, we had a much better fit."
The trade provides yet another wrinkle for the Blue Jays' bullpen situation. Francisco posted 25 saves for Texas in 2009, while Rauch and Dotel combined to save 43 games in '10. All three players will enter Spring Training with a chance to compete for closer's job. Anthopoulos said he spoke with Rauch and Dotel prior to announcing the trade, and both players are comfortable with the move.
What impact the latest move has on right-handers Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp remains to be seen. Both relievers were key members of Toronto's bullpen in 2010 and have grown accustomed to roles in late relief. This year, though, the veterans may have to settle for roles in the sixth or seventh inning.
It's also possible the Blue Jays could look to trade or buy out the contracts of either player. For now, Anthopoulos insists that's not an option, because he wants to have a strong bullpen in order to keep the pressure off a relatively inexperienced starting rotation.
"We don't want to overtax our young arms," Anthopoulos said. "You don't want to have to overwork them and get them to pitch counts of 120 or 130 because you don't feel that you have a reliable bullpen.
"In the same breath, I've seen it a lot of times where you only have one or two reliable relievers in the bullpen, and those relievers get overtaxed because the manager only has confidence in those select one or two guys."
Barring an unforeseen trade, the Blue Jays already have six spots in their bullpen that are no longer up for grabs. The five right-handers will combine with left-hander David Purcey to form the heart of 'pen.
That leaves right-handers Casey Janssen, Carlos Villanueva, Josh Roenicke, Chad Cordero and left-handers Jesse Carlson, Jo-Jo Reyes and potentially Marc Rzepczynski competing for jobs.
Last year, the club opened the season with a seven-man bullpen. No decisions have been made about how many relievers the Blue Jays will carry this season, but Anthopoulos said it's possible the number will be expanded to eight. That would allow the club to potentially find a spot for Reyes, who is currently out of Minor League options.
"If we want to keep all of our arms and all of our depth, we may open the season with 13 and see what happens," Anthopoulos said. "Invariably, someone will get hurt, someone won't perform well and it may sort itself out.
"We're trying to put the best team on the field for six months, not just for one day. So that depth is very important to us."