The Rafael Furcal free agent situation turned ugly, and it is difficult to know whom to blame and who the bad guy really is, but all parties come out of it in an unfortunate way and probably looking worse than they deserve. It seems like Furcal wanted to remain with the Dodgers all along and didn't get that third year until the very end when the Braves thought that they had an agreement in place for $30 million over three years. The Dodgers ended up matching that bid and also included a vesting $12 million option for 2012 if he is able to make 600 plate appearances during the 2011 season. Furcal's deal is an escalating one, where he'll make $6.5 million in 2009, $8.5 in 2010, and in 2011 he'll make $12 million. It seems as though agent Paul Kinzer was in the difficult situation of finding a way to get his client into the situation he wanted while not leaving a significant amount of cash on the table from Oakland ($40 million over four years) and the Braves. This difficult scenario forced him to play to the media frequently in an attempt to get Ned Colletti and the Dodgers moving as they waited on their priority of re-signing Manny Ramirez. Furcal will remain at shortstop with the Dodgers, whereas he would have played second base for Atlanta because of Yunel Escobar, and Kelly Johnson would have moved to left field, unless one of those two players were dealt in a subsequent trade. Atlanta has had a offseason of near misses. First, they were unable to complete a trade for Jake Peavy. Next, they were beat out on A.J. Burnett by the Yankees, and now they lose out on Furcal. For the Dodgers, losing Furcal, Manny, and Derek Lowe would represent a talent drain that would make repeating as NL West champions difficult. The fact that he had back surgery in 2008 is troubling, but he's played in at least 138 games in each of the six previous seasons. His drop in production in 2007 in which he hit for an OPS of .688, sandwiched between an .814 year in 2006 and 1.012 in 2008 is more of a cause for concern. When Furcal was on the field in 2008, he was one of the best offensive players in the game with an on base percentage of .439 and slugging percentage of .573 while hitting five homers in 143 at bats (one every 28.6 at bats). But that production was over just 164 plate appearances, so this contract is largely based off one absolutely brilliant month of production in April. He returned just in time for the playoffs and went 8-for-29 while scoring nine runs. Defensively, Furcal is barely passable and has always been extremely error prone. I like him much better at a second base than a shortstop if and when that conversion occurs. Grade for Furcal: B+ Furcal landed an excellent contract based off a belief that he is more that month of April than the back surgery or the 2007 season. His OPS for the final month of September was .489 over 66 plate appearances, so timing is always everything, as they say, and Furcal's was excellent. Grade for Dodgers: B- The Dodgers didn't feel as though they had an imperative 'need' to sign Furcal, but there is a part of them that will probably feel fortunate that they were roped into re-signing him when this offseason is over. They were hoping Chin-Lung Hu would follow up his excellent 2007 season in the minors by proving himself part time in the bigs in 2008 and then taking over for Furcal in 2009, but after hitting .181/.252/.233 in 129 plate appearances, that time is clearly not yet now. Plus, Furcal is a much better option than Orlando Cabrera offensively, and they're not paying him a whole lot more than what the Giants are giving Edgar Renteria, who wasn't terribly productive despite staying healthy in 2008. If a team is going to invest eight-figures annually, I typically prefer the risk to have a high ceiling, and I do believe Furcal has one still.
Grading The Deal: Furcal Sticks With Dodgers Amid Controversy