Could Rafael Furcal Make Sense for the Indians?


Could Rafael Furcal Replace Asdrubal Cabrera?

Reports are beginning to surface about the varying degrees of interest surrounding Rafael Fucal and his possible landing spots for the 2014 season. It is being reported that several teams are apparently reaching out to the 36-year old shortstops in hopes that he has a little bit more quality baseball left in his gas tank. With the scarcity of quality shortstops on the open market this offseason, Furcal could be one of the best of the bunch.

As mentioned, Rafael Furcal will be 36-years old for the entirety of the 2014 season, old by historical standards for a short stop. Can he be the same offensive spark plug that he has been throughout his career? Obviously this is what the teams courting Furcal for his services will be hoping for.

July 9, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; National League infielder Rafael Furcal (15) of the St. Louis Cardinals rounds second base for a triple during the fourth inning of the 2012 All Star Game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak/USA TODAY Sports via USA TODAY Sports

However, what can be reasonably expected from Rafael Furcal in 2014 is anyone’s best guess. He missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Can he bounce back from missing an entire season at the age of 36 and still be the same disruptive force at the top of the lineup and on the base paths? These are the questions teams will have to ask when deciding whether or not Furcal is worth the time and money.

It’s apparent from his performance over the past few seasons that Furcal’s performance is on the decline. A career .281/.346/.403 hitter, he struggled through sub-par seasons in 2011 and 2012. With the Dodgers and Cardinals, Furcal posted a slash line of .251/.314/.347, all well below his career averages. On top of that, Furcal has struggled to stay healthy, playing in only 208 of a possible 324 games during that two-year period. The injuries no doubt played a role in his declining speed, as evident by the fewer number of triples and stolen bases, both of which have been vital parts of Furcal’s game over the years.

The other issue is how will the time off effect his defense. In particular, how has a year away from the game effected his range and has Tommy John surgery robbed him of his cannon arm? Per Fangraphs, Furcal’s defense performance had already been slipping. His UZR in 2011 and 2012 was -5.5 and -9.5 respectively. His UZR/150 was even worse at -9.6 and -11.2 respectively. What that tells us is that Rafael Furcal is not the shortstop he once was.

So where does that leave the Indians in all of this?

The signing of Rafael Furcal makes sense only if one a few key dominoes fall. First, the Indians would have to be committed to moving Asdrubal Cabrera and the $10-million salary he is set to make in 2014. That would mean shipping Cabrera off in a trade to another team desperate for help at shortstop or possibly even third or second base. The return, as documented by Katrina Putnam, probably wouldn’t be that great at this point, but something is better than nothing. With Cabrera set to leave following the 2014 season via free agency, it would be worthwhile for the Indians to explore trade opportunities now rather than in July.

The second key domino that would need to fall is the realization that Francisco Lindor still isn’t ready to make the leap to the Major Leagues. That would immediately increase the need for a stop-gap at short stop until Lindor is ready. If Cabrera is moved like many of us believe he will be, Rafael Furcal could be that stop-gap. Having made only $13-million combined over the past two seasons, it seems likely that the Indians could make a reasonable one year offer in the $5-$7-million range for Furcal’s services, possibly even less.

With Furcal in the fold, Lindor could then get one more season of professional baseball under his belt before making his way to Cleveland. The absolute worst case scenario would involve Furcal struggling through the first two months of the season before giving way to either Mike Aviles or Lindor in a second half call-up. Either way, the signing could help keep the Indians from prematurely starting the clock on Lindor’s service time.

Is the possible signing of Rafael Furcal a stretch? Yes, most certainly. It would require a whole lot to go right as well as a lot of other teams choosing to go in other directions to solve their shortstop issues to actually make it happen. Either way, it should come as no surprise to anyone if the Indians have actually explored the possibility of bringing him to Cleveland in 2014.