The Miami Marlins made their second free agent signing of the week on Thursday, inking former St Louis Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal to a one-year contract worth $3 million, plus incentives. The 36-year old Furcal, who didn't play at all in 2013 following Tommy John surgery, is expected to serve as Miami's second baseman, shifting from the position he has played nearly exclusively over his career.
While Furcal's bat wasn't great at all in 2011 and 2012 (.646 OPS in the former, .671 in the latter), those numbers would still be an upgrade for a Marlins team that spent 395 plate appearances on Donovan Solano (.249/.305/.316) and blew 394 more on 31-year old career minor leaguer Ed Lucas, who played five positions in 2013 and hit .256/.311/.336. Oh, and did I mention the decaying mound of flesh known as Placido Polanco, who earned $2.8 million over 416 plate appearances while hitting .260/.315/.302? I thought I forgot someone.
I'm even ignoring the elephant in the room: shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who didn't break .300 in any of his triple slash stats last year. His .227/.267/.298 line made him one of the worst every day players in baseball, and when you combine that stat line with average to below average defensive statistics at shortstop, you have to wonder why Miami even considers him a long-term answer as opposed to a guy who still needs seasoning in AAA.
But forget about him for a minute. You might be wondering about another young Marlin with Furcal's signing: Derek Dietrich, who was at the center of the abuse controversy that got hitting coach Tino Martinez fired. Well, Dietrich is actually working at third base, and might be the new third baseman for Miami in 2014 – and that's probably not a bad thing, given his defensive struggles at second. Even with a .275 OBP, Dietrich did manage to club nine home runs this past season, and he added 11 more in AA to go along with a double digit walk rate. Maybe he's more a of long-term answer at third instead of second for the Marlins, even though he took up residence in Jeffrey Loria's doghouse in the second half of the year.
Furcal at $3 million is a minimal investment for the Marlins. After all, the last contract he signed was a two-year deal with the Cardinals for $14 million, and he didn't even play during the second season of that deal. There really weren't a lot of good, cheap options on the infield free agent market, but the Marlins got one of them in Furcal. Would I rather have had Kelly Johnson, who got $3 million this week from the Yankees? Yeah, I would. But is paying Furcal $3 million probably a better investment than acquiring either Dan Uggla or Brandon Phillips and paying the eight figures left on their contract? Definitely.
One player that is getting set up for a nice payday, especially after Robinson Cano falls off the market, is another former Brave: Omar Infante. Infante is pretty clearly the second-best second baseman out there on the free agent market, and all of the guys after him in our top ten second basemen rankings falling off the board puts him in a great position, especially when you compare his skills and the salary he'll command to those of the aforementioned Uggla and Phillips.
Infante made $4 million in 2013, but seeing Furcal and Johnson both get $3 million will likely push his salary into the $6-8 million range. I'm sure he'll end up being worth that much, but if Furcal stays healthy, he could produce roughly as much value for half of the cost. Furcal's health is always a huge question. and moving him over to second could keep him on the field and improve his defensive statistics, making him a more valuable player in 2014 and a better investment for Miami.