Franco agrees to one-year contract

Updated: January 23, 2005, 8:21 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- John Franco has been working out all winter. Sunday's exercise was a little different.

John Franco
Relief Pitcher
New York Mets
52 2 7 0 36 5.28

"I had a great one today shoveling for five hours," he said after agreeing with the Houston Astros on a $700,000, one-year contract and clearing more than a foot of snow from around his New York City home.

A 44-year-old left-hander, Franco spent his first six seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and the last 15 with his hometown New York Mets, where he became the team's captain in May 2001. He was 2-7 with a 5.28 ERA last year, and the Mets made no effort to re-sign him.

"Change is good sometimes," Franco said. "I've been here for 15 years. It's not going to kill me to be there for 81 days."

A four-time All-Star, Franco has 424 saves, second only to Lee Smith's 478. Franco's 1,088 appearances trail only Jesse Orosco (1,252).

Franco, 90-86 with a 2.84 ERA, gives the Astros a second left-hander in their bullpen. Mike Gallo went 2-0 with a 4.74 ERA in 69 games with Houston last season but made no appearances in the NLCS against St. Louis.

Arizona, Baltimore, Florida and Minnesota also inquired, according to Franco. He spoke with Houston manager Phil Garner late last week and made his decision Saturday night.

"They were the best offer," Franco said.

Houston appealed to him because he knows Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Dan Wheeler and Jose Vizcaino.

"I just like the guys," Franco said.

Houston is in desperate need of bullpen help, especially after shaky relief pitching cost them three games in the NL championship series and five overall in the postseason.

Franco has a 0.00 ERA in five games and 5 1/3 innings at hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"It's like when you go to Wrigley Field and the wind is blowing out. You can't worry about it," he said.

He already has looked at the schedule to figure out when he can get back to New York during the season and when his family can get to Houston.

"My son didn't want me to retire. My wife didn't want me to retire," Franco said. "They've all been pushing for it: go one more year, go somewhere where you're relaxed."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press