In so many ways Jeff Francis, who is on the short list of free agent starting pitchers the Colorado Rockies are considering, is a painful reminder of things from the past. He was a shining star on the 2007 Rocktober team, the top of the rotation stud who won 17 games. Who can forget the way his love for the Rockies practically oozed out of him two seasons later when he was forced out of action because of injury but was still a fixture in the dugout as the team made the playoffs once again? So many happy Colorado Rockies memories, now accompanied by cringes and pangs of sadness, feature Francis’s beloved dorky smile, front and center.
Francis, Aaron Cook, and then Ubaldo Jimenez were the faces of that brief moment when we thought that the days of horrendous pitching were behind us. He came up through the system, and therefore he is a reminder of the comfort we took that he was the first of many who would ascend through that system that we thought was strong. He loved Bob Apodaca and was one of the many pitchers that seemed to orovide evidence of’Dac’s extraordinary coaching abilities.
Now, as the Rockies and Francis both mull the possibility of his return to the club, almost everything has changed. All of the items listed above, the supposed signs of prosperity, have fallen apart and no longer hold much currency. There is a new manager and a new pitching coach. There is a new GM…sort of…I mean, that guy isn’t new, but he wasn’t hanging out in the clubhouse before. There are many new teammates. There is a new catcher who is frustratingly prone to past balls.
The changes since the so-called glory days are on Francis’s end as well. Mainly, his lack of a put-away pitch and consequent reliance on wittiness and craftiness have caught up with him. It’s not that he cannot be an effective pitcher, but he certainly will never be regarded as an ace again and it’s just a little bit painful to think that he ever was.
For me that is the problem with bringing him back. When I see Francis trot his knock-knees and high socks to the mound, complete with nerdy features and cheeks red from assertion, I associate him with Rocktober. Fair or not, I want so badly for him to be the guy we thought he was back then. So while he was the pitcher who found the most success (it’s all relative) in the paired pitching piggyback thing that was never paired pitching, it still feels uncomfortable to have him back in this context. He flopped and the team flopped.
When you put it that way, maybe it’s not uncomfortable as much as it is depressing.
I also think of it this way: if it is depressing for me, as a fan sitting on the couch, to see Francis back in such lowly circumstances, imagine what it must be like for him. If I were in his shoes, I would probably need a little package of kleenex in my back pocket for when the whole thing made me cry.
They say that depth is never a bad thing as teams build their rotation competitions for Spring Training. Maybe Francis would bring that depth, and maybe his understanding of Colorado would be a benefit. But, for my part, I think there is too much history, even for a team that is starved in that department, for him to return and find success.