Braves sign Rafael Furcal

The Braves have reportedly swooped in and signed free agent Rafael Furcal, who came up through the Braves organization and played the first six years of his career in Atlanta.  He battled several off-field issues as a Brave, from the controversy over his age to his DUI arrest, but the 31-year-old shortstop will be coming back to the team with which he started his career.

Furcal played three years as a Dodger and has battled persistent injuries for two years.  His signing is the type of high-risk, high-reward move that could pay off tremendously if he can stay healthy for a full season.  The Braves’ depth mitigates the risk of signing him, since they already have an established double-play duo in tow, with Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson.

Early reports are that Johnson will move to left field, opening up second base for Furcal.  You might choose to believe that the Braves will be more aggressively shopping either Escobar or Johnson, as has been rumored for much of the offseason, although depth would be nice given Furcal’s recent history.

The Braves are getting a good player in this deal, although Furcal never really lived up to the super-speedster hype that he generated by stealing 96 bases as a minor-leaguer in 1999.  That version of Furcal attempted a steal nearly two-thirds of the time he reached first base, but this version is a bit tamer on the basepaths, trying for an extra base about a fifth of the time.  He has still stolen bases effectively despite the injuries.

In 2008, Furcal got off to a torrid start at the plate, and he finished with an OPS+ of 164, showcasing some extra-base power to go with an abnormally high .357 average.  His average on balls in play was .380, which likely isn’t sustainable with a line drive rate under 20%, but he’s still a .290-or-so hitter with a consistent (but not spectacular) walk rate and some moderate power.  He’ll be an effective leadoff hitter for a team that has lacked firepower at the top of the order for the last few seasons.

I’m honestly not sure how this changes the Braves’ current pursuit of a second front-line starting pitcher.  Yunel Escobar was considered a key piece in a possible trade for Jake Peavy before the Braves even had a Plan B at short, but it wouldn’t be a terrible decision for the Braves to hold onto all the cards they currently have.  Furcal or Escobar could play third to spell Chipper, which would still allow Martin Prado some playing time at second (if Johnson does indeed move to LF, which is another story).  I’m not terribly high on Prado myself, at least not as a starter, but the Braves could do worse for a utility infielder who gets 300-or-so ABs.

So the Braves’ 2009 lineup looks something like this:

2B Furcal
SS Escobar
3B Jones
C McCann
1B Kotchman
LF Johnson
RF Francoeur
CF Blanco/???
Pitcher

That’s not bad, but is it enough to beat the Phillies or Mets? I’m not sure yet.

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8 thoughts on “Braves sign Rafael Furcal

  1. What’s the status on Matt Diaz? Do the Braves even still have him?

    I’d hate to lose Escobar, and actually like our lineup with him following Furcal and Kelly playing in LF. And just think, if Kotchman hits for us like he did for the Angels and Francoeur resurrects his BA/OBP/SLG line from last year’s .230/.235/.240 levels (that’s what it seemed like anyway), we’d be pretty solid top to bottom.

    Either way, it’s not a terrible lineup, but our rotation is severely lacking. Unless we somehow get a top pitcher from somewhere or Tim Hudson comes out saying that his elbow injury was all a big joke, I don’t see the Braves doing much better this season.

  2. I dunno man…if what we currently have remains our opening day roster then I’m not sold.

    2008:

    Rotation:
    Tim Hudson
    John Smoltz
    Tom Glavine
    Mike Hampton
    Jair Jurrjens

    Lineup:
    Kelly Johnson
    Yunel Escobar
    Chipper Jones
    Mark Teixeira
    Brian McCann
    Jeff Francoeur
    Matt Diaz
    Mark Kotsay
    Pitcher

    vs. 2009

    Rotation:
    Javier Vasquez
    Jair Jurrjens
    Jorge Campillo
    Tommy Hanson maybe???
    Perhaps one of either Smoltz/Glav/JoJo/Morton?

    Lineup: (copy/pasted from what you provided)

    2B Furcal
    SS Escobar
    3B Jones
    C McCann
    1B Kotchman
    LF Johnson
    RF Francoeur
    CF Blanco/???
    Pitcher

    Man, that rotation was hard to predict!

    After scanning that…if the 2008 opening day roster played the 2009 [as is] opening day roster…I’d put my money on the 08 squad.

    And we know how we did in 2008.

    I realize this isn’t the most objective way to predict the 2009 outcome. I also realize that it is unfair to put the 2008 results on that opening day roster because we fielded the opening day roster (what, like a week?) before all those injuries bit us?

    Wren has a near impossible task. He has to field a winning team that lost Teixeira, Hudson, and Smoltz (maybe) even though we couldn’t even win when we had those 3.

    I hate to sound so Pessimistic…I don’t want to be. But when I compare the two squads I have trouble finding a reason to be optimistic.

    So to fuel my optimism…if we have a few (ok, several) of the below happen for us, I think we might could sneak in a Wild Card:

    1. We stay healthy, in general.
    2. Jurrjens doesn’t have a sophomore slump.
    3. Keep a solid bat on the bench to back up Chipper (Note: Reuben Gotay type hitters are NOT solid bats!)
    4. Tommy Hanson has ROY type season.
    5. Chipper hits about 10 more Homers, B-Mac and Kotchman hit about 5 more each, and if Kelly Johnson popped a few more it wouldn’t hurt either.
    6. Smoltz comes back and pitches in rotation, not Bullpen. I’d be happy with 100 innings. 120 would be icing. Hey, it’s John Smoltz…I’m not gonna say he can’t do it.
    7. Moylan, Soriano, and Gonzalez are healthy and pitch their A game. Since we have a weak rotation, making it a 6 inning game for our opponents would certainly help. Those 3 can do it if they’re healthy.

    If the starts align and we get many of the above to fall our way I think we can be a surprise team. Oh, and if we find another league average starter that wouldn’t hurt either.

    Sorry this is so long, I didn’t intend it to be when I first started typing. Happy Birthday tomorrow.

  3. I’m with you guys on the pitching situation. Smoltz would have to come back and be his old self for this team to be that great.

    Looks like I may have gotten punked by ESPN, though. They’re quick to point out in that story that FOX (specifically Rosenthal) first reported it as a done deal, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for getting it wrong. Clearly they have lowered their reporting standards to compete with the blogs that are consistently stealing away their visitors. Hopefully everything will work out and the Braves will get their man.

  4. Oh, and to answer the question about Diaz:

    He avoided arbitration last year by signing a one-year contract, so I believe that means he’s arb-eligible for ’09 but still under team control. He’s still listed on the 40-man roster; I know that much.

    Seems like the Braves have never viewed him as much of a long-term solution, and his horribly slow start last year probably didn’t help matters.

  5. Chris,

    You’re right—the current ’09 Opening Day Lineup/Rotation doesn’t stack up well with the ’08 version, but the ’08 version was pretty good—we just didn’t field that team for more than a couple dozen games all season (and at that point, we were still very much in the race).

    But at this point, it’s not even looking completely promising that we’ll get Furcal, which makes the lineup even less potent than we were thinking.

    Long season ahead I’m afraid.

  6. Good point about the ’08 squad, Luke. We’ll never know how that team could have performed had they been healthier.

    Although it may be worth pointing out that through the first 24 games of the season (when we were our healthiest) we were a mere .500, going 12-12. It’s certainly a better percentage than we finished with…but not worthy enough for a playoff spot. We just happened to be in the race at that time because the season was so young.

    So what are you fellas going to do to keep the next season worth watching? Here’s what I’m thinking…every game Chipper gets on base at least twice I put down a win and when he doesn’t I put down a loss. At the end of the season I’ll compare that record to our actual record. Sound interesting? Well, not really, but it might keep me interested for awhile at least.

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