Rafael Furcal Signing: Marlins Add Stop-Gap Second Baseman
By Ehsan Kassim
August 15, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal (15) fields a ground ball hit by Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton (not pictured) during the sixth inning at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
“He’s 36. He’s coming off a major injury and did not play at all in 2013.” “He is washed up and does not have much left at this stage of his career.” “They just wasted $3 million on a washed up player.”
Those are the things you’ll probably hear from a lot of Miami Marlins fans regarding their signing of former Braves great shortstop, Rafael Furcal. I don’t agree with that crowd, however.
Second base was one of the many positions that the Marins performed poorly at last season and giving Furcal a shot to play there in 2014 is not going to kill the team.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Miami signed free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal to a one-year contract on Thursday night. Rosenthal did have a bit of a Freudian slip when he first Tweeted that the Mariners, not the Marlins, had signed Furcal. (Probably had the M’s on his mind because of Robinson Cano.)
The team will pay Furcal $3 million plus incentives in 2014 to be their everyday second baseman. Although he has played just 36 games (30 starts) at second during a 13-year big league career, Furcal was receptive to the idea earlier this off-season, when he was being pursued by the New York Mets:
"“At my age, if I have health, I can play regularly,” Furcal said. “… I am a natural second baseman. If I have to move around to various positions in order to play for a contender, I would do it.”"
In 2012, Furcal posted a .264/.325/.346 slash line with a .298 wOBA in 121 games for the St. Louis Cardinals, but missed the 2013 season after having to undergo Tommy John Surgery. Furcal has dealt with injuries woes for the past few seasons, as he has averaged just 101 games from 2010-2012.
So why did the Marlins believe that Furcal was the right call to take a risk on?
More Time for Dietrich?
If the Marlins had not signed Furcal or any other stop gap second baseman, the team would have likely given second baseman Derek Dietrich a chance to win the starting second baseman job out of spring training.
In my opinion, the Marlins need to let Derek Dietrich spend at least half the season gaining more seasoning in Triple-A. Dietrich only has 107 games of experience at Double-A across two seasons and is still a work in progress when it comes to his plate discipline.
It’s true that he could provide the Marlins lineup with the home run pop that it is lacking, but his .275 OBP in the majors last season shows that he still has something to work on in the minors before the Marlins call him up for good.
Solano/Lucas to Utility Roles
With the signing of Furcal, the Marlins will move both Donovan Solano and Ed Lucas to utility roles, if the team does add another third baseman like they are rumored to be interested in doing.
While Lucas and Solano proved to be decent players in spurts in 2013, they also proved that they are nowhere near starting caliber players for the Fish going forward. Having these two off the bench would help the Marlins defensively late in games, especially with the older Furcal playing second.
When signing one-year stopgap contracts, the team signing the player always has the option to trade the veteran player, in case they are having a strong season to a contender. If Furcal performs strongly enough for the Marlins in the first half of the season and is able to stay healthy, the Marlins would be able to add a small prospect return.
As Michael Jong mentioned last night on Fishstripes, players that play a position of defensive premium will always draw interest on the trade market:
"This is especially helpful because Furcal will be playing a position of defensive premium up the middle. The worst that could happen is that Furcal can serve as a midseason injury replacement in a depressed market for a contending team. If he recovers well from the surgery, the team can even pass him off as a shortstop for short stretches of time, at least until contending teams get their injured players back. One can point to deadline deals of players like Alberto Callaspo as proof that teams can use versatile middle infielders who can play defense, even if they are not great hitters."
For the Marlins, the risk of signing Furcal is mitigated by the reward of his potential trade value.
So how do the projection systems see the 2014 season playing out for Furcal? Here is a look at the projections from Steamer and recently released Oliver rankings:
|PROJ SYSTEM||AVG||OBP||SLG||WOBA||WAR/600 PA|
While the Steamer projection is one that the Marlins would gladly take, as it would be a major improvement on what they got in 2013, it seems a bit optimistic for a player that didn’t play in all of 2013.
The Oliver projection puts Furcal closer to the projected levels of Solano and Dietrich, meaning he would not be much of an upgrade over what the Marlins already have in place.
I think somewhere in the middle, like Michael projected, would be a fair estimate. Michael projected that Furcal would produce a .250/.320/.355 (.301 wOBA) slash line and provides Miami 1.2 WAR in 450 plate appearances. This would still be an upgrade over what the team did in 2013.
While Furcal may not be much better than Solano or Dietrich at this point in his career, the Marlins did make a wise decision to sign the former great shortstop to a stop-gap contract. Furcal should outproduce Solano and gives Dietrich more time to get seasoned in the minors.
At the small sum of just $3 million, the move hardly affects Miami. The move is a seems to be a classic stopgap move, in that it is low-risk and low-reward.
What are your guys thoughts on the Marlins latest free agent signing of Rafael Furcal? Did the Marlins target the correct guy to be their stop-gap option or should they have gone after someone like Mark Ellis? Drop a comment and let us know what you think!