MLB

Blue Jays acquire Francisco in exchange for Napoli

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The Canadian Press
1/25/2011 6:20:59 PM
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TORONTO -- The Toronto Blue Jays stuffed another potential closer into what is quickly becoming a very crowded bullpen with Tuesday's acquisition of veteran Frank Francisco.

The right-hander comes over from the Texas Rangers along with cash for Mike Napoli, who was with the team for about four days after being picked up from the Los Angeles Angels in the Vernon Wells deal Friday night.

While general manager Alex Anthopoulos knew of the other teams interested in Napoli, he insisted that the catcher wasn't acquired to be flipped. Napoli was a fit in Toronto as catching insurance behind rookie J.P. Arencibia, first base depth behind Adam Lind and an option at DH, but Anthopoulos preferred another relief option for manager John Farrell.

Francisco, who saved 25 games for Texas in 2009, joins fellow newcomers Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel in a three-way fight for the closer's job, with the trio crowding out some of the incumbents from last year's pen.

Anthopoulos said the team will go with either seven or eight relievers out of camp, meaning there are four or five spots left for Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, David Purcey, Casey Janssen, Jesse Carlson, Jo-Jo Reyes and others to fight over.

"We love the fact that we have depth in the bullpen, one through seven," said Anthopoulos. "It's especially critical and important considering how young the rotation is. I've seen a lot of seasons spiral out of control because of a weak bullpen and having depth in that bullpen is going to be vital for us.

"Knowing that we're going to be seven-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."

The Blue Jays have been after Francisco for much of the off-season, talking to him when he was a free agent and then repeatedly pitching the Rangers once the 31-year-old accepted arbitration.

He filed at US$4.875 million while the Rangers countered at $3.5 million, and the Blue Jays will pick up the negotiations from there. He made $3.265 million last year.

That he qualified this off-season as a Type A free agent -- meaning he would return two compensatory draft picks should he sign elsewhere -- helps make up for the extra year of player control the Blue Jays gave up in Napoli, who can't become a free agent until after 2012.

"It's not lost on us," said Anthopoulos. "There's added value to us in either we offer him arbitration and get to control his rights for one more year on a non-guaranteed contract, so there is a possibility of two years of control. And if it wasn't to work out that way, there's certainly the possibility of being able to net draft picks."

Francisco was 6-4 with two saves and a 3.76 earned-run average in 56 relief appearances for the AL West champs last season, but especially attractive to the Blue Jays is that lefties hit just .205 against him.

With left-hander Scott Downs' departure to the Angels as a free agent, the bullpen lacks a dominant shut-down southpaw. Purcey is the front-runner for the role, with Carlson and Reyes also in play, but having some right-handed support gives Farrell more options.

Losing Napoli may open up another spot up the bench, depending on how the Blue Jays split the roster between pitchers and position players.

Anthopoulos said right now the bench includes infielder John McDonald and Jose Molina -- a sort of first public declaration that Arencibia is the starter -- and that he has time to fill out the rest later.

The Napoli deal is one he wanted to do now, Anthopoulos said, because he didn't want to treat him, "like a hot potato."

Anthopoulos added that he didn't expect Angels GM Tony Reagins to be upset that Napoli was flipped to a division rival.

"This certainly will not catch Tony by surprise at all, because he's aware of it," said Anthopoulos. "We did not have a deal in place, did not have any commitments (when the Wells trade was completed), we were open, but once we completed the trade we got several inquiries on Mike Napoli.

The Rangers were probably the most aggressive overall and the one that was most willing to move fast."

Frank Francisco (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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