Furcal: The Stopgap Solution

Rafael Furcal is sitting pretty right about now.

While Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins are clearly the top two free agent shortstops, each player carries a significant amount of risk. Furcal isn’t free and clear of the risks associated with either player, but he’ll prove significantly less expensive.

Reyes’s inability to stay on the field — he played in 295 of the possible 486 games since 2009 — eats away at his value. If teams aren’t convinced he has adequately recovered from his recent ailments, they are less likely to dole out an iconic type of contract. The talent is obvious, and at 28 years old he is still in his prime. But what good is paying $16+ million per year for the next 4-6 years if he can’t stay on the field?

Rollins, meanwhile, expects to sign a lucrative 3-4 year deal. Sure, he expressed a desire for a five-year contract because, hey, who wouldn’t want that type of deal. But he knows it’s unlikely. Rollins’s performance has been hindered by injuries of late, but his 2011 numbers marked a return to form to his 2004-06 self, the player that produced 4.5-5 WAR. He’s an elite defender at the most important position, a top-notch baserunner, and a league average hitter capable of knocking the ball out of the yard. These players don’t grow on trees, but Rollins is also 33 years old.

Teams don’t necessarily shy away from players his age, but they surely try to avoid committing too much in years and dollars. Signing Rollins, or someone like him, for two years and $20 million is one thing. Signing him for four years and $50 million is an entirely different story. Some teams will gladly undertake that risk if it means shoring up their infield, but the rest of the league will seek an alternative solution.

Cue Furcal, who is also 33 years old, and who has produced very similarly to Rollins over the past three seasons. In 334 games since 2009, Furcal tallied 8.2 WAR. Over 385 games in the same span, Rollins tallied 9.3 WAR. An entire win above replacement, spread over three years, doesn’t amount to much.

Is there really a difference between 3.5 and 3.2 WAR? Though the question was rhetorical, I’ll answer it anyway: no, there isn’t really a difference.

This isn’t to say that Furcal is better than Rollins, now or moving forward. He isn’t. He can throw harder to first base, but his range is limited and his hands aren’t as sure. At the plate, Furcal is more disciplined, while Rollins displays more power. At the end of the day, however, their offensive numbers are fairly similar: they have identical career .336 wOBAs.

Reyes is clearly better than both of these players, but for teams that decide he is too risky for a huge contract, who are also considering signing Rollins to a less risky deal, Furcal should be concurrently considered. He might not produce as well as Rollins next season, but the gap in their production won’t be material.

At this point in their respective careers, the main difference between Furcal and Rollins is that the former doesn’t expect a big contract. Even if his performance, albeit injury-rattled, would merit a 3-4 year deal, Furcal will likely sign for one or two years and less per annum.

Rollins may be more of a sure thing, but not so much so to the point of committing significant team resources to his acquisition when a similarly-skilled, and markedly less expensive alternative exists.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

12 Responses to “Furcal: The Stopgap Solution”

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  1. BDF says:

    May the Phillies sign Furcal and go on to do horrible things to the Cardinals!

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Furcal is a pretty good fit for the Phillies since they would probably like to see Galvis repeat his breakout 2011 in AAA. That said, Galvis is essentially a finished product and does appear to be the current SS of the future for the club.

      Since you basically know Furcal will miss 50 days, the Phillies would probably still get a look at Galvis on the big stage at some point.

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  2. hk says:

    They are not the same age, Rollins is 13 months younger. Also, while the author points out that Furcal has a stronger arm, Rollins has a more accurate arm (in addition to having more range as was noted). In fact, UZR/150 shows Rollins to be a significantly better fielder (+5.1 vs. -1.6). Finally, with Furcal’s big drop-off this year, can we be sure that he is a candidate to recover to the 3.2 WAR mentioned in the article? I’m not saying that Rollins is good value at $50M over 4 years if Furcal gets $20M over 2 years, but I think the difference between the two is greater than the article makes it seem.

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  3. Eric R says:

    Doing a three year weighted average [3-2-1], plus -0.5WAR per year for decline:

    Year JR ….. JP
    2012 2.7 .. 1.7
    2013 2.2 .. 1.2
    2014 1.7 .. X
    2015 1.2 .. X

    If they are going to cost 4/$50M and 2/$20M respectively, then you are looking at $6.4M and $6.9M per win respectively… so Rollins may still be a better value at those prices/years.

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  4. thehotteststove.com says:

    I’m very intrigued to see where each of the shortstops land. I haven’t seen this much risk and/or reward since the ___________. I couldn’t think of a solid ending to that joke. It was gonna be HUGE.

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  5. What The What says:

    Every sentence/paragraph of this piece is disjointed from the one preceding and following it.

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  6. JG says:

    “Rafael Furcal is sitting pretty right about now… Furcal isn’t free and clear of the risks associated with either player, but he’ll prove significantly less expensive.” Doesn’t sound like he’s sitting pretty compared to the other two.

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    • Madoff Withurmoni says:

      Yeah, I kinda thought sitting pretty was the guy who had the career year in his walk year which would likely make teams over-pay for him. Sounds like the author thinks Furcal might be worth more than he’s going to get. Furcal did nothing to drive up his value during the season or the World Series. That’s like the opposite of sitting pretty, isn’t it?

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      • Eric Seidman says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        I’m of the opinion that Furcal will have more suitors than Rollins and Reyes because he can be signed for 1-2 yrs at a lesser annual rate. So even though he carries risks like the other two, he has a greater signability.

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  7. CFIC says:

    “At the plate, Furcal is more disciplined, while Rollins displays more power.”
    I would say the opposite. agree on the stronger arm of Furcal.

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