Furcal Signing Changed Everything

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti's first big move during a busy winter was to land shortstop Rafael Furcal with a contract that quickly made the 28-year-old baseball's second-highest-paid shortstop behind Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees. The signing was accompanied by loud voices that claimed the Dodgers drastically overpaid Furcal.

But at $13 million per season, the youngster was a bargain in a number of ways. Initially, he filled a huge question mark at shortstop created by the serious operation incumbent Cesar Izturis had undergone last season.

At the time, Izturis' ETA was sometime around the All-Star Game and Colletti knew that the Dodgers could not patch the hole for that long without risking slipping so far behind they could never catch up.

Of course, the "experts" were certain that the Dodgers had spent their entire bankroll to hire yet another shortstop, giving them three if you included Oscar Robles. But Robles was never an option for Los Angeles and Owner Frank McCourt's bankroll was just starting to made a statement.

But the biggest thing Furcal's signing did was to give the Dodgers, in Colletti's words, "credibility".

"His signing gave us credibility right away and helped us convince other free agents we were serious about what we were trying to do," Colletti said.

Nothing was mentioned about the remarkable groundswell of hope experienced by Dodger fans who had the feeling that they would be a second-class power for ... well, forever.

The 2005 Dodgers -- due primarily to a pandemic of injuries that kept local hospitals on ready alert -- were slow, had little power and only a smattering of major league hitters. Furcal stole 46 bases last season for Atlanta. The Dodgers stole 58 as a team. That should certainly help the speed aspect of the team and Kenny Lofton could boost the numbers even further.

"We don't have an excess of power, so we have to manufacture runs," said Colletti. "Speed at the top of the order has almost disappeared in baseball. It's very hard to find, but now we have it."

When asked how many bases he thought Furcal could steal, new Dodgers manager Grady Little said, "I'm not going to put any number out there, but we're going to be active [on the bases]. You can have a certain philosophy, but you adjust to your personnel."

For the time being, Furcal isn't running at all. He reported early to Dodgertown, and has been rehabbing his right knee after arthroscopic surgery in January. Although the procedure was supposed to be minor, Furcal still has a slight limp but has begun hitting.

"Another week or two and I'll be OK," said Furcal, who hit .338 in the second half last year. "I'm not worried. It's a long season. I have plenty of time to get ready."

Colletti says the Dodgers weren't caught off guard and aren't concerned about Furcal's long-term health.

"We knew there was a possibility he would need a little cleanup on it at some point, and we decided to go ahead and get it fixed rather than nursing him through the season," Colletti said.

The gimpy knee will keep Furcal from playing for his native Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic but he accepts that. "If I can't be 100 percent, it isn't any good to play," he said.

Furcal will get acquainted with former stolen base record holder Maury Wills, a Dodgers instructor. "They'll get to know each other, I guarantee that," Colletti said.

When the Dodgers came in late and snatched Furcal away from the jaws of the Chicago Cubs who were about to sign him they made the first move of an off-season that completely revamped the lineup.

Many of the players added are short-termers as Los Angeles awaits the fruits of Logan White's remarkable drafts. Some of the talented young men should show up later this season and many more will arrive within the next two years as the Dodgers return to their roots, feeding off a strong farm system.

Furcal will be with Los Angeles for the next three seasons -- perhaps more if Colletti thinks that would be the right move. But in any case, he has brought with him not only the ability catch, hit and throw the ball, he is, like the first Robin of spring, the indication of good times to come.