Jeff Francis and Colorado Rockies Need To Face Reality: He Is Done For The Year

David MartinAnalyst IFebruary 19, 2009

There is less drama in a junior high girls bathroom than what we have seen recently with Jeff Francis and his ailing shoulder.

The first report said that Francis was still experiencing pain, but that an MRI revealed nothing.  The second report said that Francis was making breakthroughs and throwing from 90 feet.  The third report said that Francis was throwing, but experiencing pain afterward.

The reports keep coming out that Francis is either on the right track back to health, or that he is on the track to exploratory surgery.  It seems that the only certainty in Francis' 2009 season is that he is at least one month behind as of right now.

After laboring through a 4-10 season in 2008, Francis was one of the many reasons that the Rockies did an abysmal job of proving that their 2007 run to the National League pennant was a fluke.  In '07, Francis took the reigns as the ace after Aaron Cook went down and won 17 games.

The prospect of losing Francis for the entire '09 season spells doom to the Rockies on paper.  Without a return to form by their former ace, the Rockies look as if they have no chance to compete in the National League West, regardless of how weak it may be.

That may be true, but only if the Rockies continue to put their hope in Francis' return. 

It was clear early in '08 that Francis was not right.  He has never blown people away with his fastball, but from the onset he was throwing only 84 MPH.  He struggled early, never finding location on any of his pitches.  Lack of location, and lack of velocity spells doom for a Major League pitcher.

The Rockies and Francis suspected that there was an issue, but Francis did not land on the disabled list until early July, long after the Rockies had begun their downward spiral that they would never recover from.

The Rockies come into spring training with more depth at starting pitcher than they have ever had before.

The offseason saw the Rockies acquire five time 10 plus game winner Jason Marquis from the Chicago Cubs for failed free agent reliever Luis Vizcaino.

Marquis projects to be the Rockies number three starter, with Jorge De La Rosa number four.

With Franklin Morales, Jason Hirsh, Glendon Rusch, Greg Reynolds, Matt Belisle and Josh Fogg all in camp looking to earn a spot on the roster the team has several options for the fifth spot in the rotation, opened up with Francis' injury.

The Rockies are in desperate need of a quick start out of the gates in 2009.  The last two seasons they have stumbled and it took a great second half in 2007, they had the best record in the majors after May, just to make a run to a play in game.  In 2008, the never recovered from their abysmal start.

If the Rockies allow Francis to work through his injury, they risk repeating the past two Aprils.  If every fifth day the Rockies are climbing out of an early six run deficit and the bullpen is forced to pitch six or seven innings, the team could be in serious trouble early.

However, if the Rockies put Francis on the shelf now, they can go into spring training knowing that they will have to depend on someone else to fill that roll.  They can allow Morales or Hirsh to show that they progressed enough last year in Triple-A Colorado Springs to be ready for Major League hitters.  They can go into the season with stability in their rotation, something that should bring some relief to a young prospect like Morales. 

This is a risk in and of itself, but with so many options it seems that this is a good time to allow Francis to recieve exploratory surgery and get himself to the Francis that was looking like one of the more dominant pitchers in the National League.

On paper it looks as if the Rockies talent is not that deep.  But those who follow the team and know their prospects know that there is a good chance that either Morales or Hirsh has the talent to emerge as a quality Major League pitcher. 

Francis and the Rockies need to make hard decision to shut him down and find out what is truly wrong with his shoulder.  It seems like a devestating decision, but it may be the one that saves the Rockies season.