It wasn’t the resigning the team, or fans, had hoped for last week, but Rafael Furcal’s return to the Cardinals is an important one.
It’s important for the Cardinals because they’re going to contend for a division title despite the loss of Albert Pujols, and Furcal is better than nearly every alternative currently on the market. It’s important for the fantasy owner because now the Cardinals may actually have a viable fantasy option at shortstop. It’s a position that is among the weakest in baseball and no team knows that better than St. Louis. Last season Ryan Theriot played 91 games at short before the addition of Furcal pushed him aside, hitting .267/.313/.323 with one home run – his only all season. The 2010 season saw Brendan Ryan come to the plate a remarkable 482 times while playing shortstop. I say remarkable because he hit .223/.279/.294, good for a .573 OPS, third lowest in baseball. Not even his stellar glove should have kept him in the lineup that often.
This isn’t to say Furcal comes without flaws. His 2011 was poor. Injuries allowed him to play in just 87 games where he hit .231/.298/.348 with eight home runs. His performance improved once he signed with St. Louis, putting up a .735 OPS in 50 games, .215 points higher than his 37 games with Los Angeles. He’s 34 going on 80, having dealt with a variety of injuries ranging from lower back surgery to hamstring tightness to a fractured thumb that have lead him to miss 252 games since 2008. When he’s healthy he’s a threat to hit 10-15 home runs and still has the capability to swipe 20 bags, though his 25 to 45 steal days are over. The Oliver projection system projects a .263/.326/.384 line for Furcal in a neutral environment in 2012. That .710 OPS would have been 13th best among qualified shortstops last season. Not star material but certainly ownable in most league formats.
Due to various medical ailments over the past few seasons Furcal should be more of a late round flyer or free agent fodder in standard leagues. I’d certainly rather own him than any of the shortstops in Tampa Bay, San Francisco or Houston, just to name a few. Starting shortstops are in limited supply and the Cardinals found themselves one.