The Miami Marlins are answering a number of difficult questions in 2014, and Joe Frisaro of MLB.com highlighted nine specific questions that were important to the franchise. One of them was regarding free agent addition Rafael Furcal, who was added to the team to play second base for the first time since his rookie season. Furcal was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals last season, but he spent all year out recovering from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. Here is what Frisaro had to say:
3. Can Furcal play second base? Signing Furcal to a one-year, $3 million contract is a low-risk, potentially high-reward move. Furcal's track record speaks for itself. He's been in the big leagues 14 years, and he's been to the playoffs 12 times. But he's been a shortstop. He's agreed to switch to second base. Furcal also is bouncing back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, which forced him to miss all of last year. Miami is banking on Furcal being healthy and productive at the leadoff spot while handling a new position.
The Marlins don't really need to "bank" on Furcal at all. His play is not expected to be much better than Donovan Solano's, so the team is not counting on him to provide a huge boost on offense or defense. If Furcal falters on either side, the Fish can easily replace him.
But the $3 million investment does mean the Fish have expectations, and part of that is on the defensive side. Can Furcal manage the keystone after years as a shortstop? It's hard for me to tell as an observer, but there are some advantages and disadvantages.
Advantage: Furcal is moving down the defensive spectrum into an easier position. Furcal had been faltering at shortstop anyway, depending on which defensive system you ask. At his age and with his injuries, it may have been a right move to decrease his range of responsibility in the infield and give him an easier task. Since we know he was able to handle the responsibilities of shortstop, we can be fairly certain he can handle a lesser load.
Advantage: Furcal's work on the injured elbow will be easier at second base. No longer does he have to make those difficult throws from across the diamond, and he only has to share the responsibility on balls up the middle with the rangier Adeiny Hechavarria. That will help to hide what is likely his decreased arm strength.
Disadvantage: Furcal has been out a year with injury, so rust could be a factor in his work. There is no indication that he may miss Spring Training time, and the Marlins almost certainly did their due diligence on their medical evaluation of him, but if there is missed time during the games that do not count, they may interfere with his reps during the regular season.
Disadvantage: Furcal is injury-prone, having only played 130 games or more twice since 2007. He is moving to a position that is more difficult on the body at second base. Keystone players regularly face hard slides in attempts to break up double plays, and there is a theory that says that the physical demand of the position causes the early decline of second basemen. This is not a good combination for a player who tends to miss time regularly.
Ultimately, the Marlins weighed the benefits and downsides and saw enough of Furcal to be confident. There is a decent chance he can at least play the second base position decently simply because of his instincts at shortstop. However, do not be surprised if Furcal suffers the usual injury problems that have plagued him over the last eight years and that he finds it more difficult to stay on the field with his new position.