Question: Who pitches in the back end of games in 2011?
Sometimes you can't fully appreciate someone until they are gone. In the case of Frank Francisco, it was clear how much he was missed down the stretch and in the postseason when he went on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle and was not able to return during the playoffs.
Francisco was the primary eighth-inning setup man. Of course, it didn't start out that way in 2010. He entered the season as the closer, with Neftali Feliz and others helping set him up. But some early struggles forced the Rangers to change job descriptions and Feliz was slotted as the closer, a job he never relinquished. Francisco slid into the eighth-inning role and became extremely valuable.
At the time of the switch, manager Ron Washington said the Rangers would need Francisco if they were to achieve the lofty goals of 2010. It was not merely lip service designed to motivate Francisco. It was the truth. And that was evident during the postseason, when Washington was forced to try to mix and match Darren Oliver and Darren O'Day in the eighth inning, shoving others earlier in the games in an effort to bridge the gap from the starter to the closer. It really never worked just right. When Francisco was healthy, Washington handed him the ball and made sure Feliz was ready. It was simple and effective.
But Francisco can test the free agent market and the Rangers must be prepared to play without him in 2011. They could, of course, attempt to re-sign him. But they must be certain he's healthy and they won't get caught overpaying for the 31-year-old's services.
The Rangers, though, will need some help in that bullpen. Darren O'Day and Darren Oliver are coming off career highs in appearances (O'Day also had career-high in innings) and appeared worn down at the end of the season. Alexi Ogando is a nice power arm in the late innings, but he could end up getting a shot at the rotation.
If the Rangers don't have Francisco, they must address the bullpen and add some depth in the offseason. Look for a handful of arms to arrive in Surprise and compete for some jobs. That would include a power arm that has the ability to get key outs (and strikeouts) late in games.
Would you bring back Francisco next season? If so, how many years are you willing to give him? If he doesn't return, who would be your primary eighth-inning setup man (I'd hand the job to Ogando and see what he does with it).