Could Jeff Francis be a player who could help San Diego compete for the NL West title in 2012?
Last season, the San Diego Padres finished in last place in the NL West with the second-worst record in the National League.
They have already made a number of moves to shore things up and improve upon that showing for next season. But, are there any players still available through free agency that the Padres can afford and could help their chances?
The Padres have already settled things in the infield.
Some combination of up-and-comers Anthony Rizzo, Yonder Alonso and Jesus Guzman should provide some offense at first base.
The middle infield is locked up with Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett.
The Padres also seem happy with Chase Headley manning the three-bag.
Nick Hundley seems to be rounding into the No. 1 catcher, and recently acquired Yasmani Grandal could be the catcher of the future.
With Cameron Maybin blossoming into a top-flight center fielder and the Padres bringing in Huston Street to close games out of the bullpen, that doesn't leave a lot of spots that could be improved with a free agent, especially considering San Diego's tight budget.
One area they could still be looking to address is the addition of more pitching depth. PETCO Park is a pitcher's park, and that means you can win a lot of games on the strength of your arms.
One player who could round out the bottom of the rotation might be Jeff Francis. Francis is 30 years old and had a so-so season last year with the Kansas City Royals, finishing with a 6-16 record, 4.82 ERA and 1.44 WHIP.
Can the San Diego Padres Contend for the NL West title in 2012?
The good news is that Francis is right in his prime, and the ERA and WHIP are right in line with his career averages. He generally throws lots of ground balls, can chew up innings, and his salary last year of $2 million is in the affordable range.
The possible downside is that putting a lefty arm like his in the 4 or 5 spot in the rotation would likely put Cory Luebke back in the bullpen, even though he pitched pretty effectively in the starting rotation late last year.
There are a couple possible outfield options that could add a little more firepower to the lineup as well.
Reed Johnson could be a good fit in the Padres' outfield. He hits for a pretty good average (.309 last year), can handle all three outfield positions comfortably, and his price tag ($900,000 in 2011) is in the right range.
The dream pickup for the outfield, in my opinion, might be Juan Pierre. He's pricey, earning $8.5 million last year, but posted respectable numbers at .279/.329/.327/.657 in addition to stealing 27 bases.
Home runs might be hard to come by at PETCO, but speed doesn't take days off, as the saying goes. Pierre is a decent left fielder, although his arm is weak. Nevertheless, having Pierre's bat and wheels in the lineup everyday could provide a boost to San Diego's offense.
The Padres could also, perhaps, gamble on a resurgence by Rick Ankiel. Ankiel is 32 years old, he hasn't been over .240 since 2008, his power numbers are way down since his St. Louis Cardinals days, and he's never played more than 122 games in a season. All this adds up to a bunch of question marks, but it also means he comes cheap, earning just a million-and-a-half with the Washington Senators last year.
Ankiel is a decent fielder who could play either corner, and he has a plus-arm. He could wind up being a low-risk, high-reward guy, or he could be a decent fourth outfielder behind Maybin, Will Venable and Mark Kotsay.
Overall, it appears that the Padres have already made moves to address their main concerns coming out of a disappointing 2011 season. They've done a good job of shoring up several spots. But you never know—there might be a Francis or Pierre still on the open market who could make an immediate impact on the lineup if San Diego's front office wants to take the chance.