Is Furcal a Better Shortstop Than Izturis?

We were asked the question if Rafael Furcal was a better shortstop then gold-glover Cesar Izturis. That is a fair question to ask and an easy one to answer. At this place and time in their careers, Furcal is better, both in the field and at the plate. This is not to denigrate Izturis, a fine player: Furcal is just that much better.

Izturis is two years and three months younger and is coming off an arm injury. Both became a regular at 22. Comparing their careers as a regular, Rafael has had all the better of it, averaging .284-.348-.409 (6 years), while Izturis is .261-.295-.338 (4 years).

Furcal has always had more power, averaging just over 10 home runs per season. Cesar 14 in five seasons. Furcal's double mark went 31-35-24-31 and Izturis was 21-32 and on a pace to hit 38 last year.

He also tops Izzy on the bases, with a 189-53 (78%) stolen base record. Cesar has a career mark of 58-50 (66%). Furcal stole 46 bases in 2005 -- the Dodgers had only 58 as a team.

Izturis' win shares as a regular go 4-11-25-12, well short of Furcal's 20-25-20-26 over the past four years and a six year average of 19.3. Izturis has created 50 runs a year, while Furcal has averaged 81 a year.

In the field, Izturis has range factors of 4.48-4.31-4.62, winning a gold glove in 2004. Furcal has no gold glove to his credit but his last three range factors were 4.77-4.79-5.23, finishing second, second and first in the National League over that span.

The Dodgers offense will obviously be better with Furcal batting leadoff and he gives the team its best leadoff man since Brett Butler. The Braves ranked fourth in the N.L. in leadoff OBP last season due mainly to Furcal. The Dodgers ranked 10th with Cesar Izturis getting the bulk of the leadoff plate appearances.

Plus, the Dodgers' defense just got as great deal better with Furcal taking over at short, Izturis moving from short to second once he recovers from elbow-ligament transplant surgery in July and Jeff Kent moving from second to first.

Furcal and Izturis could form one of the game's most acrobatic double-play combinations. The entire Dodgers' staff will benefit — in particular Lowe, a groundball specialist, who might even be inclined to chip in a little help pay Furcal's salary.

Well, maybe not.

The Dodgers still need a third baseman, a power-hitting outfielder and a few new pitchers, not to mention a manager.

They'll be giving Furcal $9 million in 2006 and they were set to pay out $58 million before the addition of Furcal figures to push that number into the $67 million range. Colletti, who said earlier that he was interested in getting bout Furcal and outfielder Brian Giles, is going to have to be some sort of a magician to keep the payroll at around $80 million, which is about where the Dodgers were last season -- unless owner Frank McCourt has revised his salary projections.

McCourt, criticized for a number of things including a seeming lack of resources, has now invested nearly $131 million in three free agents the past two off-seasons — Furcal, outfielder J.D. Drew and right-hander Derek Lowe.

By the time Furcal's contract expires, several prospects from the Dodgers' terrific farm system should be in the majors, helping balance the payroll. And if the Dodgers want to re-sign Furcal, he will be only 31.

The Dodgers entered the Furcal negotiations late, but new Colletti and McCourt made a persuasive argument. Furcal has a tremendous amount of respect for Colletti and was impressed by McCourt.

McCourt his vision of where he wanted the team to be and how Furcal would fit in. Once the Dodgers went to $13 million, that tipped the scales and eliminated both the Cubs and Braves.

Furcal apparently also preferred a three-year contract instead of the five-year pact offered by Chicago.

Furcal will reportedly receive $9 million next year, $5 million as a signing bonus. He gets $13 million in cash in each of the following two seasons, and there is a final $4 million payment in January 2009.

Colletti already has contacted shortstop Cesar Izturis and second baseman Jeff Kent to outline the projected position move to them. It is not known if the signed off on the moves.

Kent was in Los Angeles to meet with hand specialist Dr. Norman Zemel because some right wrist soreness that plagued him late last season still bothers him. Kent underwent a precautionary MRI last week, which showed no tears, but there is some irritated scar tissue that will require a rehabilitation program.

Kent will be re-evaluated in two to three weeks, but is expected to be fully recovered by the start of spring training.

"I talked to Jeff Kent at length on a couple of different issues, including (a potential position change)," said Colletti. "I told him I need him to be open-minded and see what happens. That's a long time away, and a lot of water will pass under the bridge between now and then. But the number one thing on his mind is having a chance to win. I have known that about him for a long time."

Asked if that meant Kent was amenable to the switch, Colletti said he didn't want to speak for Kent.

As for Izturis, Colletti said, "I would rather have two great shortstops than none. If that's a problem, it's a problem I will take."

The Dodgers next priority appears to be finding a third baseman. A source from the Minnesota Twins, who pulled out of the chase for free agent Bill Mueller, said the former American League batting champion had narrowed his list of potential clubs to the Dodgers and Pittsburgh.

There were whispers the Pirates had offered Mueller a two-year contract, something the Dodgers aren't likely to do because of the front office's belief that highly touted third-base prospect Andy LaRoche will be ready to take over in 2007.

Colletti said he "hasn't made any decision yet" about the future of center fielder Milton Bradley in Los Angeles, but Bradley could be dealt before the Dodgers are faced with a decision of tendering a contract Dec. 20. Colletti said there have been "a lot" of teams asking about Bradley, who is recovering from knee surgery.

The Oakland A's and Chicago Cubs are among the teams that appear the most interested. The A's and the Dodgers reportedly talked about a deal that would bring right-handed pitcher Kirk Saarloos or left-handed pitcher Joe Kennedy to the Dodgers rotation. Saarloos was 10-9 with a 4.17 ERA in 27 starts; Kennedy went 8-13 with a 6.01 ERA in 35 appearances, 24 of them starts, splitting time between the A's and Rockies.

Some rumors have Barry Zito coming to the Dodgers for some package that includes Bradley. However, that seems to be more a dream than a rumor.

The Boston Red Sox have been shopping left-handed starter David Wells, and the Dodgers and Padres reportedly are interested in him. Wells essentially would replace Jeff Weaver, who has seemoingly left through free agency.

The club must offer Weaver salary arbitration by Wednesday to retain rights to negotiate with him and to receive draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere.

There also were rumors that the Dodgers were speaking with the Phillies about a deal for outfielder Bobby Abreu.

Dodger Blue Notes--Cy Young closer Eric Gagne, currently recovering from season-ending elbow surgery, heads the list of five Dodgers who have agreed to participate in the World Baseball Classic. Gagne would represent Canada, as would rookie catcher Russell Martin. Jose Cruz Jr. and Ricky Ledee would represent Puerto Rico, Oscar Robles would represent Mexico and Duaner Sanchez would represent the Dominican Republic. In addition, free agents Giovanni Carrara and Elmer Dessens have agreed to participate, Carrara for Venezuela and Dessens for Mexico. Colletti said the club would wait and monitor Gagne's recovery before making further comment. Davey Johnson, former Dodgers manager, will assist Buck Martinez. As will former Dodger coach Reggie Smith, Marcel Lachemann and Ken Griffey Sr. The inaugural World Baseball Classic, a 16-team tournament sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), will take place March 3-20 and feature the world's best players competing for their home countries and territories for the first time.

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