Welcome to a new segment on Braves Journal, where I argue with myself. Lines in red are in favor of the Braves doing whatever it takes to re-sign Rafael Furcal. Lines in blue are in favor of moving on.
This is just a conceit; the no-politics sign is still on.
The Braves’ core of players has changed over the last few years. Realistically, that core is the up-the-middle bunch of Furcal, Giles, and Andruw. The Braves’ advantage on the rest of the league is having these three plus hitters at three “defensive” spots in the lineup. And of the three, Furcal is the most valuable.
The most valuable? Are you crazy? Furcal was an average hitter last year — exactly average, with an OPS+ of 100. He was a long way away from Giles, and far short of the Joneses. Don’t leave Chipper out of the equation; when he was in the lineup, he was by far the best hitter on the team.
There’s more to the game than just batting. There’s defense, and more importantly in this case there’s the defensive spectrum. Don’t look at them versus the average; look at them versus what you’d get from a replacement. It’s a lot harder to find a guy who can put runs on the board and play gold-glove caliber defense (Furcal was robbed) at short than it is to find a guy who can play good defense and hit at second base or center.
There are probably about a dozen good major league shortstops out there. The Braves aren’t going to get one of those guys if Furcal leaves; it’s going to either be some glove specialist who can’t hit or it’s going to be the second coming of Jeff Blauser.
Wilson Betemit should take over the position if Furcal leaves, and he could be one of those dozen guys. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a more valuable player over the next four years than Furcal. He’s pretty mechanical as a shortstop but wouldn’t be the worst in the league, but it looks like he can really hit and give you Jeter Lite performance for the next five years.
You’re dreaming. Bobby got used to having a real shortstop out there and he’s not going to allow some blunderer to mess up his defense. Remember when Mark DeRosa was holding the job when Furcal got hurt? They imported Rey Sanchez to take over. Sanchez, predictably, sucked. But he made the plays!
I don’t think that the situations are really parallel. Three reasons:
Betemit would be taking over the job to start the season, not midway through.
Betemit is a better hitter than DeRosa; his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage last year would all have been full-season highs for DeRosa’s Braves tenure.
Betemit was a hot prospect at a time, while DeRosa was just organizational fodder.
The situations are still too close for comfort. At best, Betemit will get 400 PA while some Neifi clone takes the late innings and two starts a week from him. But even if Betemit takes over, the Braves will lose a lot. Furcal is probably the fourth-best shortstop in the game right now, the best in the National League. (1. Tejada, 2. Young, 3. Jeter, 4. Furcal, 5. Rollins.) You can’t just give that up and replace him with some virtual rookie and not take a hit.
Explain that list. I can think of a number of guys who were more productive, overall or per PA, than Furcal last year. Bill Hall, Julio Lugo, Jhonny Peralta, Felipe Lopez.
None of those guys had done it before on the Major League level, though. Furcal’s level of production was pretty close to his standard.
Okay, maybe. But still, it just goes to show that Furcal-level performance isn’t that hard to find. There’s a big difference between #3 and #4 on the list, and not much between #4 and #10 or #15.
You’re leaving out defense again. Of the top three, Tejada is a good defender, and Jeter and Young are pretty bad. Most of the other guys have never been considered gold glovers either.
Neither was Furcal, until this year. Who’s to say it wasn’t a fluke?
Hard to believe that day-in, day-out performance like that could be a fluke. The Braves will miss that glove when he goes.
So we’ll pick it up elsewhere. The Braves have done that year after year, losing something at one spot and making it up elsewhere.
Look, realistically the Braves either have to let Furcal go or trade Marcus Giles. Maybe they can get through 2006 with both, but Marcus will then go into his final arb year and they’d have to move him then. Giles is the better player; the Braves should lock him up instead.
I agree that Marcus is the better player of the two measured against a zero point. But he’s more replaceable than Furcal. You can get a good bat at second base, or a good platoon (Orr/Betemit?) a lot easier than a good shortstop.
Moreover, there are some troubling signs that Marcus isn’t happy with the organization. There’s also the injury concern. While Furcal has had his problems as well, he’s played a lot more than Giles over the last three years and hasn’t shown a propensity for catastrophic injuries. Throw in that second basemen get hurt more than shortstops and are more likely to wear down over their careers (it’s true!) Furcal is the better bet to be effective over the next few years.
Unless he drives into a tree.
That’s a low blow.
Maybe. But it’s a real concern.
He got caught twice, and one time he might have been okay except for claiming he was underage when he wasn’t.
Lying makes it better! Come on. One drunk driving arrest is unfortunate. Two is a problem, or a sign that he has a problem. The team watched him like a hawk last year but they can’t do that permanently.
Why not? Baseball teams have dealt with heavy drinkers, and worse, as long as there’s been baseball. Have someone keep an eye out, make sure he doesn’t drive drunk, and he’ll live with it.
Yeah, that’s the hope. I’m not happy with the idea of relying upon a drunk driver as the engine of my offense.
Way I hear it, Marcus Giles is no choirboy either.
I’ve never heard he was arrested, though. But my main point is that Marcus is a better player. By a wide margin! Four second basemen created more runs per 27 outs than Giles last year: Roberts, Utley, Kent, and Polanco.
Wait, Utley and Polanco? Man, Ed Wade is an idiot.
True. But Marcus played a lot more than Roberts or Kent. Arguably, he was the third-most-valuable second baseman in the majors last year, and he had an ordinary season while Utley and Polanco had career years. Arguably, he’s the second-best second baseman in baseball after Kent, and Kent is old and might not be a second baseman, or an elite player, much longer.
That’s two “arguablies”. But you haven’t addressed my point that it’s harder to find elite shortstops than elite second basemen.
I’m not sure that that’s true. Historically, the Braves have had a lot harder time finding productive second basemen than shortstops. Two of the Braves’ elite prospects are shortstops but the only regular MLB second basemen they’ve produced in the last 25 years are Giles, Lemke, and Hubbard, and only Giles of the three is a productive hitter.
A half regular at best. And for all the position value, you underestimate the difference between Furcal and Giles as hitters. Marcus was better than Furcal by just about every hitting measure last year. He even had a higher stolen base percentage.
I don’t want to give up Marcus, but we might lose them both. If giving him up allows us to secure Furcal, we’re secure at at least one position.
But we have Marcus for two more years — the two years when Furcal is most likely to be productive. If you secure Furcal now, you run the risk of having the worst of all worlds — a hole at second base (I trust Betemit a lot more than Pete Orr), a shortstop in decline, and a payroll even less flexible than before.
Any long-term contract carries risk, but Furcal isn’t an old player, and should be good for four years. I’d rather have Betemit at second than short; the defensive downgrade would be less.
Assuming Bobby doesn’t decide to go with Orr instead.
Now you’re going after Bobby!
Okay, okay. But in the end, when in doubt I go with the better hitter. That’s Giles, easily.