Rafael Furcal Signs With Dodgers

In a move that sends shockwaves through the Dodger Nation, General Manager Ned Colletti signed free-agent shortstop to a three-year contract worth an estimated $39 million. The agreement hinges on Furcal passing a physical examination.

The 28-year-old Dominican provides a proven leadoff hitter and seems to cement the club's long avowed wish to bring the Dodgers back into the National League race.

The move will also allowed the Dodgers the luxury of filling one of the corner positions with some combination of their top prospects James Loney, Joel Guzman and Andy LaRoche, among others.

With Furcal as the regular shortstop, former Gold Glove shortstop Cesar Izturis will apparently move to second base, when Izturis returns from the disabled list sometime around the All-Star break. That gives them a solid double-play combination and tightens a defense that led the league in 2004 but moved away from emphasizing fielding under former GM Paul DePodesta.

Club officials are expected to meet with second baseman Jeff Kent soon to gauge his willingness to move to first base or perhaps third base -- something the veteran and potential Hall of Famer has been reluctant to do last season -- to make room for Izturis.

His reluctance seemed to be more along the line of not wanting to take on a new position in the middle of the season and with his desire to play on a contender, those close to Kent feel he will not have a problem moving to the left or right on the infield to make way for a player the quality of Furcal.

Furcal, a switch-hitter, batted .284 with 12 home runs and 58 RBI for the Braves in 2005, with 46 stolen bases, 100 runs scored and 154 games played. His .338 batting average after July 7 last season was second highest in the league.

The Dodgers stole only 58 bases last year, next to last in the National League. No Dodgers leadoff hitter has scored 100 runs in a season since Brett Butler -- the last real leadoff man -- in 1991. And no Dodgers player suited up for as many as 154 games in 2005.

Furcal, who made $5.6 million in 2005, was the Rookie of the Year in 2000 and an All-Star in 2003. His only serious injury was a dislocated shoulder that shelved him for the second half of the 2001 season.

Furcal appeared headed to the Chicago Cubs, who offered him a five-year, $50 million deal. But the Dodgers' offer carries a higher average annual salary, and Furcal, who is in the prime of his career, reportedly didn't want to lock himself into five years anyway. By accepting the Dodgers' offer, he potentially would be eligible for free agency again after the 2008 season.

The Atlanta Braves, the only team for which Furcal has played in his big-league career, apparently never made a competitive offer to retain him. It is believed they offered Furcal a three-year guarantee with a club option for a fourth year but never came close to offering the money the Dodgers did.

Sources say the Dodgers offered veteran outfielder Brian Giles a contract equalling the one Furcal accepted but he decided to stay with the Padres, signing a three-year, $30 million deal.

If Giles had accepted the Dodgers offer, it is not know if the club would have tagged the budget so hard that they could not have make a competitive offer to Furcal.

Dodger Blue Notes--Rumors have it that the Dodgers are not finished adding to the roster. They are close to signing Bostn 3B Bill Mueller and if that falls through, 3B Joe Randa who played for both San Diego and Cincinnatti last year. …The Marlins have traded catcher Paul LoDuca to the New York Mets. …The New York Daily News reports that despite drawing more than four million fans, the Yankees lost between $50 million and $85 million for the 2005 season. Although they pumped more than $200 million into their payroll and another $110 million into revenue sharing and luxury tax, they are deep in the red this year.