Rafael Furcal to the St. Louis Cardinals: Could It Mean Keeping Albert Pujols?

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Rafael Furcal to the St. Louis Cardinals: Could It Mean Keeping Albert Pujols?
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Updates 4:11: John Mozeliak stated during the Cubs/Cards game that he hopes the deal will be finalized by the end of the day. Apparently there are still a few kinks to work out, but the deal will be done. 

Update: 2:53: The latest reports are that there is now a deal in place. It boils down to the Dodgers giving cash and Furcal to the Cardinals for a "lower level prospect." In other words the Cards are essentially adding him for free. 

The Dodgers get rid of some salary (but not all of it) and get a chance to play their prospect. 


The St. Louis Cardinals have been in hot negotiations all day with the Los Angles Dodgers in pursuit of the shortstop, Rafael Furcal. According to Scott Miller of CBS Sports, the Dodgers are close to asking Furcal to give his permission for the trade.

Furcal has 10 and 5 rights, which means that as a 10 year veteran and at least five with his current team, he must approve any trade. Previously Furcal has indicated he would be willing to waive those rights to go to St. Louis. ESPN confirms.

As of yet there doesn't appear to be much information on what the Cardinals would be giving up, but it's unlikely they'll be giving up any of their key components in their roster. It also appears that the Dodgers would be eating a good amount of cash in the deal. 

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

While the Dodgers mainly benefit by getting rid of a contract and giving Dee Gordon a chance at becoming the full time shortstop, the Cards benefit is much greater. 

When the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Matt Holliday there was a lot of speculation that by re-signing him, there would be no way to keep Albert Pujols. This of course, was very much in contradiction with what Pujols had stated about what he wanted—to play for a contender. 

Amid all the swirling trade rumors and speculation of next year's free agency the things that Pujols hasn't said drown out the one thing which he has said.

Wild projections of $300 million and 10-year contracts aren't coming from Pujols, but from media speculation. Those are projections which Pujols has publicly stated "are way off." In fact, he's even said that he and his agent have laughed at them.


To reiterate, what he has said is that he wants to play for a contender. Over the course of his time with the Cardinals, that's certainly been the case. In fact, after just 10 seasons in the Majors, Pujols is already 34th all time with 56 postseason games played. 

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Holliday was an aggressive acquisition to keep the Cardinals in playoff contention, as was the Colby Rasmus-for-Edwin Jackson deal earlier this week. Dealing Rasmus was a smart move by the Cardinals. Certainly he has a ton of potential but the emergence of John Jay has made Rasmus expendable.

In acquiring Jackson the Cards bolstered both their rotation and their bullpen as the acquisition enables career reliever Kyle McClellan back to the bullpen. Add in Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel and you have significantly stronger bullpen.

The need for these upgrades simply cannot be understated. The Cardinals have the third most blown saves in the Major with 16. Their ERA from the seventh inning on is 21st at 3.94. In other words, if baseball were a seven-inning game the Cardinals would have the best record in the Majors.

There are two reasons for the Cardinals late-inning woes. Firstly, the bullpen problem which has already been addressed. Secondly, there is the fielding problems they have. With 71 errors the Cards are tied for 22nd in the Majors. They are tied for the seventh most unearned runs allowed in baseball with 44.


Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This brings us, at long last, to the subject of Rafael Furcal, Albert Pujols and why the acquisition of the former could be the key to the retention of the latter. If the rumors are true, that the Cardinals are aggressively trying to trade for the Dodgers shortstop, Pujols may be around for a very long time.

Ryan Theriot is frankly just not a good enough fielder to play the shortstop position. In fact, you could make the case that based on his zone runs (minus-10) and his fielding percentage (.958) he's one of the two or three worst fielding shortstops in the game.

In fact, roughly one quarter of all the Cardinals' unearned runs can be attributed to Theriot. Furthermore the Cardinals give up 4.21 runs when Theriot starts at short compared to 3.95 when he doesn't. Clearly, he's a defensive liability. 

Rafael Furcal is not the best fielder in the league. In fact, he's somewhere between average and slightly above average, but that's still a significant improvement over Theriot. Simply having a player who can make the plays he is supposed to make can be the difference between an unearned run and a double play, particularly in the Cardinals system where they pitch for the ground ball.

While he's had the inferior season with the bat, lately Furcal has been coming around. It may simply be a matter of motivation. His career OPS is 30 points higher. Certainly he's been looking like he's playing like he wants to be traded. His OPS over the last nine games is .862 to go with five RBI and five runs.

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Furcal isn't going to lead a team anywhere by himself but he could be the final piece of the puzzle this year for the Cardinals.

Offensively, particularly when they have their titanic trio in place, they are absolutely lethal. In fact, in the 45 games where the Cards have had Bekrman, Holliday and Pujols all in place, the Cardinals have scored an average of 5.4 runs per game. In games where one of the three is missing they've only averaged 4.6.

If that's not convincing enough for you throw in their hot young third baseman, David Freese (.865 OPS). When he's in the lineup along with the other three, the Cards are averaging a whopping 5.8 runs per game. If Yadier Molina (.775) and Skip Schumaker (.699)  start along with those four, the Cards average 6.3 runs.

Don't be deceived. The Cardinals are a better team than their record indicates. They have been battling injuries all season long. Add the newly designated starting center fielder to the mix and with those seven players you've got a starting lineup with a combined OPS of .826.

Furcal has been able to hit in hitting lineups. While this season he's been somewhere between absolutely cataclysmic and merely abysmal for most of it, that probably has as much to do with playing on a bad, bankrupt team, with no chance of going anywhere as anything. Any Dodger right now would benefit from a change in environment.


He's hit in the past, and in a heavy-hitting Cardinals lineup, he would hit well again.     

While Berkman is out with a minor shoulder injury right now, the Cardinals are finally looking like they are on the precipice of finally having the middle of their order healthy for the first time. Actually having their starting lineup, um, starting is going to make a difference offensively.

Not only that the team has a couple of other very exciting young players who will be back in August. Allen Craig, who had a very healthy .928 OPS before going down with injury is coming back at at the beginning of the month. 

Eduardo Sanchez, the electric young pitcher who had a 1.88 ERA, a 1.047 WHIP and a 193 ERA+ before going down with injury is expected back at the end the month. His addition should further shore up bullpen.   

Adding the pitching through trades and getting healthy should result in the Cardinals giving up fewer runs.  Adding a better glove would result in fewer runs. Getting healthy will result in more runs scored. Scoring more runs while giving up fewer runs should result in winning more games.

There's every reason to think that they can still win the Central division. In fact, adding Furcal would make them the favorites to win it, if they aren't already after the Jackson trade.

Once they get into the postseason and can field that enormously potent lineup every game the Cardinals have every chance of winning a series against Philadelphia or San Francisco. Putting up a lineup with an aggregate .800 OPS would put the adage about "good pitching beats good hitting" to the test. 

Besides that, a trio of starters that includes Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Edwin Jackson on the mound isn't too shabby either.

The rumors are rampant that the Cardinals are making a play to win one last World Series before they lose Albert Pujols. I think they're actually making a run at a World Series to keep Albert Pujols. Again, I put more stock in what he says he thinks that pure media speculation.  

He says he wants to stay in St. Louis if they do what it takes to stay competitive. Nothing says competitive like winning another World Series. If the Cards win it all, then Pujols stays, and Furcal might be just what they need to put them over the top.  

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