Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again—Francisco Hoping to Catch on with His Old Team
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the Spring Invitees and their chance to make the Tribe’s Opening Day roster.
By Steve Eby
On January 21, the Indians brought in a new face and welcomed back an old one when they signed free agent utility man Ryan Raburn and outfielder Ben Francisco. Both players were signed to minor league contracts with spring training invites and both veterans will be given a chance to make the Big League club as reserves. Raburn had spent his entire seven year career with the Detroit Tigers prior to signing with the Tribe, while Francisco has bounced around America (and Canada too) trying to find a place to call home.
Francisco’s longest tenure (in terms of games played) in any one place came in his first stop as a Cleveland Indian. The right handed hitting outfielder suited up for 235 games for the Tribe, 10 more than during his time with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Francisco! That’s fun to say! Francisco… Frannncisco… Franciscooo…
Other than having a name that would make Buddy the Elf smile, Francisco’s first tenure in Cleveland was somewhat forgettable. His Cleveland line of .261 with 28 homeruns and 99 RBI would have made a fine season, but unfortunately these were the numbers that were spread out over his three year tenure from 2007-09. Francisco’s two Indian memorable moments were at the very beginning and ends of his tenure, but the majority of the time in between would have even made Shelley Duncan yawn.
Francisco started his career with a bang as he took Tampa Bay pitcher Shawn Camp on to the Progressive Field homerun porch for a walk-off homerun in the Indians 2-1 win over the Devil Rays in his first Major League start on June 29, 2007. He was then involved in one of the franchises most (in)famous trades, as he was the Indians throw-in in the trade that sent reigning Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee to the Phillies in exchange for Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp. It was during his time in Philly that Francisco had the biggest moment of his career.
In the seventh inning of a scoreless Game Three of the 2011 NLDS in St. Louis, Francisco came in to pinch hit for starting pitcher Cole Hamels two runners on base. Francisco then blasted Jaime Garcia’s 1-0 pitch over the left-centerfield wall for a three run homerun and what would ultimately prove to be the biggest hit in the Phillies 3-2 victory over the eventual World Champs. Since that night, however, Francisco has been the true definition of a journeyman player.
Philadelphia traded Francisco to the Toronto in December of 2011 and Ben played 27 games for the Blue Jays before again being traded in July. This time, Francisco was headed south to Houston, where the Astros acquired the outfielder and a slew of minor leaguers from the Jays in exchange for J.A. Happ and others. His tenure in Houston was even shorter than the one in Toronto, however, as the Astros traded Francisco for the third time in nine months—this time to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for the famous player to be named. In all, Francisco’s 2012 season consisted of a .234 batting average in 51 games with more teams played for (3) than homeruns hit (2). The long journey finally brought Francisco back to the shores of Lake Erie, where he hopes to catch on with his old team.
It certainly won’t be easy for him though. While Michael Brantley, Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn currently battle to see who starts at which outfield spot, Nick Swisher will be trying to figure out whether he will he will be placed in right field or at first base. All three outfield spots are spoken for—and none of the four candidates are going to feel any heat from Francisco. That leaves the backup outfielder role for Ben, and it is one that has multiple suitors.
Mike Aviles seems to be viewed as a “super-utility” man by manager Terry Francona and the front office, but Aviles has played only five games in a Major League outfield, so another more natural option is probably wanted. The Tribe could also go young and use someone like Tim Fedroff or Anthony Gallas, but those spring chickens most likely won’t turn enough heads to be strongly considered. Ezequiel Carrera is still an option as well, but Francisco’s main competition will probably come in the form of Raburn.
While Francisco is and should be considered to be the far better defensive outfielder, Raburn may be just as (if not more) capable as Francisco with his bat and is far more versatile. While he is primarily an outfielder, Raburn has played nearly a full season’s worth of games at second base, as well as spending ample time at third and a baker’s dozen of games at first as well. This ability to play anywhere on the diamond is coveted by many managers and Francona could be wooed by this option as well.
This certainly isn’t to say that Francisco does not have any chance, however. Like Francisco, Raburn is coming off the worst season of his career and Francisco’s 2012 numbers look like All-Star stats next to his. Raburn batted only .171 in Detroit last season with one homerun and 12 RBI in 66 games. His OPS bottomed out to an awful .254 after steadily declining from his breakout season in 2009 where his OPS was a rock solid .891. It was in ’09 that Raburn set career highs in nearly every category, but all of those numbers have slid toward rock bottom since.
These numbers pave the way for what is probably Francisco’s best strategy to make the Indians in 2013…outhit Raburn in spring training. If Francisco hits well he will most likely be the 25th man on the 25 man roster. If he doesn’t, it will most likely go to Raburn (or possibly even Carrera). It’s nice when the ball is lying in your court and your fate is in your own hands, but Francisco will really need to grab the bull by the horns if he wants a realistic chance of making Cleveland his home once again.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Plain Dealer