To Be Franc: 43-year old Reliever Isn't Needed

The agent for John Franco, the Mets southpaw reliever and captain, told the Newark Star Ledger on September 30th, that he does in fact want to pitch in 2004, and would prefer to continue his career in Queens, where he's been a mainstay in the Mets' bullpen since 1990.

Franco's agent, Dan Horwits, said the 43-year old, who made an improbable return from 2002 Tommy John Surgery in June of this year, is also willing to continue his career with another franchise if he doesn't receive an acceptable offer from the Mets.

Franco is coming off of a three-year $9 million contract during which he pitched only a year's worth of innings. In 2001, before he went down with elbow tendonitis that would eventually lead to a tear in his elbow, Franco pitched 53.1 innings, compiling a 4.05 ERA. However, he allowed 55 base hits in those appearances, while walking 19 and throwing two wild pitches. In what is often a crucial late inning role, Franco allowed 24 of his own runners to score in addition to the inherited runners he often allowed to touch home plate. His ERA+ in 2001 was a sub par 101.

Franco put up a 2.62 ERA in 34.1 innings in 2003 after missing all of 2002 due to Tommy John surgery. Despite it's aesthetic value, that stat does not tell how Franco really pitched. The ancient one allowed 35 hits and an astronomical 10 homeruns in that small amount of innings, to go along with a terrible K:BB of 16:13.

Clearly, Franco did not contribute much to the Mets bullpen in his two most recent seasons. Franco, a fan favorite, almost stole the $3 million a year from the Mets, who were generous (or stupid) enough to give a healthy 40-year old left-handed specialist that contract in the first place. After purging themselves of many of the aging veterans and beginning to evaluate some of their young talent both in the Majors and Minors, the Mets would simply be jumping on the same track that Steve Phillips set them on after the 2000 World Series.

Giving expensive contracts to veterans that will not contribute has been a bad habit the Mets, now under the control of interim-General Manager Jim Duquette, have been trying to shake since July 12th, the day Duquette sent Roberto Alomar to Chicago. Not only do they tie up future dollars for younger, more able players, it sends ripples through the organization, as evidenced by the Mets extremely cheap 2003 draft, outside of first round choice Lastings Millege. It also wastes a precious space on the 40-man roster, which could consequently expose one of the Mets' top prospects to the Rule V draft.

If John Franco, who owes a lot more to the organization than the Mets owe to him, wants to return to the team, it should be as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training or as a Minor League coach. If he ends up wearing another team's uniform next season because he did not find the Mets' offer sufficient, it would expose the façade of grace and class that Franco has always tried to cover his selfish and manipulative self with.

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