Waiting in the wings is Chin-Lung Hu, some six years younger and, considering Furcal's three-year, $39 million contract that runs out after this season, much, much cheaper.
Hu has had a major league glove for a number of years but now, after adding about 35 pounds of muscle, had a break-out season while playing for Jacksonville and Las Vegas recording a combined .325 average, a .364 on base-percentage and a .507 slugging average. His .871 OBP was third on the Dodgers minor league charts and first among the middle infielders.
"I want to stay, but if they don't want me to, that's fine," Furcal said after reporting to Dodgertown, one day before the first full-squad workout. "If they pick up a young guy, that's not a problem. I'll go to the field and do the best I can do."
Of course, Furcal didn't want to leave the Braves after the 2005 season, but Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti overwhelmed him with the large contract. Colletti drew criticism when he outbid both the Braves and Cubs but his remarkable 2006 season helped the team to the playoffs.
Then came the injury, and the corresponding fall from grace by the Dodgers.
Furcal and Jason Repko were chasing a soft fly in short center field and Furcal jumped over Repko to avoid a collision, landing awkwardly on his left ankle. For a few minutes, it appeared he had broken his leg but it turned out to be a badly sprained ankle. He was on the disabled list when the season opened.
Almost a full year later, Furcal admits the damaged ankle never fully healed and he attempted to come back much too early. He was unable to drive off the ankle while batting left handed and running the bases was very painful.
Furcal, who stole 83 bases in the two previous seasons combined, finished 2007 with only 25 steals. A switch-hitter, he batted only .254 from the left side of the plate.
"I didn't say anything, because I wanted to keep playing," Furcal said. "If this team had been healthy, I think we would have made it. But the way I played last year wasn't the way I am used to playing."
The player who had been the team's catalyst in 2006, watched his numbers tumble to .270, .333 and 25.
Remarkably, he had a torrid stretch in mid-May when he became the fifth major leaguer since 1952 to put together three consecutive four-hit games.
The Dodgers lineup that lacking power also didn't have a reliable leadoff man. The club finished 10th in the league in runs scored and stumbled down to fourth in the division standings.
Furcal, now 30, played winter ball in the Dominican Republic. "When the regular season was over, I got a lot of treatment before I started playing," he said. "That made me feel so good." He hit .361 with three stolen bases in eight regular-season games, He topped that with a .400 average in six Caribbean Series games.
He said he's healthier than he's been the past two springs, when he was also plagued by a sore throwing shoulder.
When Furcal's friend and teammate, Andrew Jones, joined the team in the off-season, it delighted the Dodgers' shortstop. "That's my man right here," said Furcal. "He's a good pickup for us. This is a big year for us. He wants to win and I tell him that if we're healthy and with his big bat, I think we can make it.
"I like the team, I like my teammates, and I like the city," Furcal said. "I would like to stay here. But you know how baseball is. You never know. I'm just trying to win a championship and not think about free agency, because I don't want to try to do more than I can do. I just want to try to be a help to this team."
Paul Kinzer, Furcal's agent, hinted that he would try to negotiate a long-term deal. Furcal said he would be open to discussing an extension this spring.
"I'm not the kind of guy who thinks about being a free agent," he said. "During the season, I want to put my mind on the game."
Rafael Furcal bb tr 5-9 195 Born-October 24, 1977 Obtained- Signed as a free agent 2007 year team ave gm ab r h 2b 3b hr bi sb 2000 Atlanta .295 131 455 87 134 20 4 4 37 40 2001 Atlanta .275 79 124 39 89 19 0 4 30 22 2002 Atlanta .275 154 636 95 175 31 8 8 47 27 2003 Atlanta .292 165 664 130 194 35 10 15 61 25 2004 Atlanta .279 103 563 103 157 24 5 14 59 29 2005 Atlanta .284 154 616 100 175 31 11 12 58 46 2006 LA .300 159 654 113 196 32 9 15 63 37 2007 LA .270 138 581 87 137 23 4 6 47 25First Workout
Dodger Manager Joe Torre addressed the team, kicking off the first full-squad workout at Dodgertown in 2008. On the field, it was all business as third base coach Larry Bowa's baserunning tutorials and boundless energy stretched the length of the workout to four hours. Major League camp came out of Day 1 feeling great. Dodger non-roster outfielder George Lombard tweaked his left calf and will be day-to-day.
Mr. K is Back
Sandy Koufax worked in the bullpen with left-handed pitching prospect Greg Miller, who has had control problems since undergoing shoulder surgery in 2004. Koufax, once a wild, hard-throwing left-hander signed to a significant bonus, spent part of the day working with a wild, hard-throwing left-hander signed to a significant bonus. It was Koufax's third consecutive day at Dodgertown. He worked last spring with Miller, who suffered through a frustrating 2007 season that included a demotion from Triple-A to Double-A. Among other tips, Koufax had Miller move to the first-base side of the rubber. "He did a really good job of keeping it simple," Miller said. "Just having him here is a calming presence."
The bullpen sessions for Jason Schmidt and Yhency Brazoban, both recovering from shoulder operations, had both sounding extremely pleased with their progress. They will continue to take an extra day of rest between throwing sessions, but appear to be ahead of some pitchers that are not recovering from shoulder operations. Brad Penny, Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley and Esteban Loaiza will begin throwing batting practice on Friday.
Minor Leaguers that will report early: pitchers James Adkins, Brian Akin, Marlon Arias, Robert Booth, Jesus Castillo, Javy Guerra, Clayton Kershaw, Jacobo Meque, Miguel Pinango, Tim Sexton, Eduardo Sierra, Kyle Smit, Josh Wall and Cody White; catchers Alex Garabedian, Kenley Jansen, Jesse Mier, Carlos Santana and Matt Wallach; infielders Josh Bell, Ivan DeJesus, Blake DeWitt, Kevin Howard, Chris Jacobs, Francisco Lizarraga, Preston Mattingly and Russ Mitchell; outfielders Jaime Hoffman, Andrew Lambo, Exavier Logan, Anthony Raglani and Trayvon Robinson.
Well, You Asked For It
When writers asked whether he plans to retire after this season, Jeff Kent replied. "That will come out at another time and another place," he said.
Beating the Stork
Jason Repko left camp to fly home to Richland, Washington, where his wife, Traci, is scheduled for induced labor. This is the couple's first child, a boy, and they plan to name him Tyler Jason Repko.
Commissioners OK Dodger Agreement
Indian County commissioners agreed to a pair of deadlines for the Dodgers to meet so the county can proceed in seeking a new team to train at Dodgertown. They included:
v March 31 for the Dodgers to inform County Administrator Joe Baird in writing if they plan to say in Dodgertown through 2021, when the current lease expires.
v July 15 for the team to inform Baird in writing if it plans to leave before the 2009 start of spring training.
If the Dodgers wait until after July and then decide to leave before 2009, Baird said, they will be penalized at $575,000 for leaving the stadium without activity for a year.
Dodger Blue Notes-- Jeff Kent begins his fourth season as a Dodger and 17th in the big leagues. Kent needs 20 home runs to leapfrog Jackie Robinson (80) on the Dodgers' franchise list for home runs by a second baseman. Davey Lopes is first on that list after hitting 98 homers in a Dodger uniform from 1972-81. ...The Mets named Sandy Alomar, Jr., catching instructor. Washington signed LHP Odalis Perez. Seattle signed OF Bubba Crosby. "));??