After a dizzying two-day, 360 degree dance between Rafael Furcal, the Atlanta Braves, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the 31-year-old shortstop finally agreed in principle to continue his semi-successful relationship with the Los Angeles Dodgers for another three or four years.
The recently oft-injured lead-off man will receive $6.5 million in 2009, $8.5 million in 2010, and $12 million in 2011 – all guaranteed money – with a fourth year vesting option worth $13 million, payable only if Furcal stays healthy throughout the 2011 season.
Just minutes after it was falsely reported that Furcal had agreed to a four-year deal to return to the Braves, Dodger blogs and message boards were rife with hand-wringing, sky-is-falling, all-is-lost posts about the demise of the 2009 Dodgers.
Can one injury-prone player truly make that much difference on a ball club?
Consider that two of the Dodger’s biggest holes going into the off-season were shortstop and the lead-off position. Couple that with the slim pickings at shortstop beyond Furcal in the 2008 free agent class and the case could be made that the Dodger offense would be limited at best without a healthy Furcal providing the spark.
Tuesday night, the Dodgers home page reported General Manager Ned Colletti was unwilling to offer more than two guaranteed contract years. After an emotional night’s sleep, a faxed term sheet, a possible position change, and a GM’s change of heart, the dust finally settled. The music stopped. And Rafael Furcal had a seat in the Dodgers camp, while the Braves were left without a chair, crying foul over alleged unethical maneuverings of Furcal’s agent Paul Kinzer.
Over the course of 48 hours, this story had more plot twists than Jack Bauer’s best season.
The creative structure of the back-loaded contract provides Colletti with one to two years of relative optimism from a good portion of the blue-blooded faithful fanatics.
Colletti has fast become notorious for his short-term, big-dollar contracts, however, the signing of Rafael Furcal points to Colletti’s ability to learn from past mistakes, if not to at least illustrate his awareness to make up for them. The relatively low dollar amounts for 2009 and 2010 allow for Colletti’s previous failures (most notably Jason Schmidt’s and Andruw Jones’ albatross contracts – both expiring after 2009) to fade into the forgotten while still putting a playoff-caliber team on the field.
Rafael Furcal is not expected to carry the Dodgers into October baseball. However, Furcal’s presence provides for the team hero to have something to carry. He is not the savior, but rather more like the hopeful sign of things to come.
There is still much work to be done as the 2009 season looms ahead, most glaringly the signing of a middle-of-the-order, difference-making left fielder. Manny Ramirez is on the minds (and hearts) of many LA fans, and like Furcal, is head and shoulders above others in the available free agent field which includes Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, and Pat Burrell.
In addition, the Dodgers must address starting pitching, some minor bullpen issues, and a fairly impotent bench.
For now, judgment on the Dodger’s off-season will be reserved until the above holes have been addressed, and Dodger owner Frank McCourt takes away Colletti’s pen. And with Manny Ramirez in the picture, it’s quite possible similar dances will continue into February, 2009.
It remains to be seen if the drama on the field in April rivals that of the off-season.