Monday, August 01, 2011

Thank You, Rafael Furcal

As much as I have enjoyed watching Rafael Furcal as the Dodgers shortstop, it made sense to trade him to the Cardinals, a contender, in exchange for a prospect. In his six years with the Dodgers, Furcal played close to a full season only twice, and the ravages of old age (Furcal is 33) along with the bad luck of fluke injuries looked to be catching up with Raffy. Even a Furcal supporter like me could see that this was the time to move the veteran, while he still had some value left.

Looking over the six Dodger years of Furcal, it won't look like a banner era. He averaged only a hair over 100 games played each season, and had postiive OPS+ ratings only half the time. He made the All-Star team once, the same number of times he had during his six years with the Braves.

In fact, his Dodgers and Braves numbers are remarkably similar: with the Braves, he went .284 BA / .348 OBP / .409 SLG / .756 OPS / 95 OPS+; with the Dodgers, Furcal was .283 BA / .351 OBP / .406 SLG / .757 OPS / 100 OPS+. The main difference? 200 fewer games played for the Dodgers.

What Furcal's Dodgers statistics don't show, though, is that he had to play his first three years along side the range-challenged curmudgeon, Jeff Kent, over at second base. And they won't show that for three years, Furcal had to cover short-left-field as well, what with noodle-armer Juan Pierre running around like an idiot out there. I remember a handful of relays where Pierre would throw a ball from the outfield wall to Furcal, positioned halfway into left field, and Furcal would rifle a strike in to nail a runner at home. Furcal always had a gun for an arm, a total cannon; defensively, he was a pleasure to watch on the left side of the infield.

And when Furcal was in the lineup, he was sometimes the only infielder with any sock in his swing, thanks to injuries at third base, a popless James Loney at first, and a rotating cast of second-tier second basemen. Furcal had well-above-average OPS+ years in 2008 and 2010 (both seasons shortened by injury, unfortunately). And remember, Furcal displaced the wispy-thin, light-hitting Cesar Izturis at short; Furcal was a total upgrade over Izturis, offensively and defensively (no, I'm not mentioning Alex Cora).

Despite his lackluster supporting cast, Furcal (to my knowledge) never complained. Sure, maybe it was the language difference, not that that has stopped other players from mouthing off in the press. But Raffy was always a professional, coming back from injury with a positive attitude, making the most of the situation when his body allowed him to play.

Furcal never matched his first year with the Dodgers in 2007, when he batted .300 and finished 14th in NL MVP votes. But he never could have been accused of phoning it in when he was on the field.

I don't know much about Alex Castellanos, a minor-league outfield prospect who has never played above double-A ball, but I realize that a shortstop batting .197 with only 37 games played this season doesn't have a lot of value in this market. And the realities of that situation should be wrong, at some level that unfortunately won't be captured in the Baseball Reference annals, where the one-for-one trade will be etched in internet stone for future generations to read.

Furcal was a steadying influence to our infield for six years that should be valued more than a distant minor-leaguer. I remember when we got him from the Braves in 2006 (where he was Rookie of the Year and also put together an All-Star season), I felt like we had stolen Furcal out from under their noses. Now, even though he only played a fraction of this highly forgettable 2011 season, I feel like he's been stolen from the Dodgers, as well.

Dee Gordon will be electric and exciting, and I'm anxious to see Gordon play with the big leaguers again. But who knows if Gordon will become the offensive force that Raffy was, as well as the veteran who led by quiet example on the field (not to mention being a mensch off the field, as well). Gordon, and probably the next shortstop or two after him, will have some pretty pumped up kicks to fill, at least in my book.

Thanks for a good run, Rafael Furcal, and best of luck in St. Louis. You will be missed!

photo: Harry How/Getty Images North America (February 21, 2009). By the way, I wrote this piece well before reading Jon Weisman's similarly-positioned valentine to Furcal, which is also a nice post.


Paul said...

Thanks Fookie!! You drove me nuts sometimes with your hitting but always had a glove and had true major league talent and intensity.

Alex Cora said...

Damn straight you ain't mentioning me...Let's see Furcal try an 18 pitch at bat ending the a homer.

Seriously though Fookie's arm was sick on some of his plays deep in the hole.

Steve Sax said...

AC, you too were sick.

Fernie V said...

When we acquired Furcal, I had mixed feelings. I hated the braves from the old NL west and I also felt we stole him. He never lived up to my expectations and he always seem to be hurt. Furcal you were good but I wanted great.

Fred's Brim said...

My favorite Raffy moment was this game in 2009. We were playing Philly on the Fox Saturday game of the week. We had played our typical game where we had wasted lots of opportunities and barfed on a good pitching performance and were in line for a frustrating loss against a team we hated in front of a national audience. The Phils had brought in Brad Lidge to close out the game but Raffy hit a game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth. Dre won it with a walkoff in the 12th but we had come to expect that from him at that point. Raffy's homer off Lidge was completely unexpected. Lidge went on the DL a day later.