Cardinals Acquire Rafael Furcal, a Real Live Shortstop

click to enlarge Cardinals Acquire Rafael Furcal, a Real Live Shortstop
Oh, if only I could somehow believe this would bring to an end the bitter sight of Ryan Theriot playing in a Cardinal uniform. Sadly, I'm sure this just means he'll be moving over to second base, where he can look marginally better but not actually be any better because the only way he can look better is to move to a less valuable position. 

The Cards made a very nice deal over the weekend, picking up veteran shortstop Rafael Furcal from the Dodgers along with cash considerations in exchange for minor league outfielder Alex Castellanos

This is a solid trade for the Redbirds, who added a strong player at a huge position of need at fairly minimal cost. They're also only one the hook for about $1.4 million of Furcal's remaining salary (close to $5 million total), so the Dodgers are sending a substantial chunk of money over as well.

It doesn't quite make up for the, ahem, unpleasantness last week, which I won't rehash here, but it's a good deal and makes the team quite a bit better for the stretch run. Furcal has been injured for much of the 2011 season, and he no longer has quite the same nuclear-powered arm he showed off so often during his days wearing a Braves uniform, but he seems to be healthy now and, if so, should represent a significant upgrade over what the Cards have been running out to short for the bulk of the year. I like it. 

As for Castellanos, the player the Cards sent to the Dodgers, he isn't without value, certainly, but he also isn't someone to get overly upset about. Playing in Double A this year for Springfield, Castellanos did post a very impressive (albeit very slugging-heavy), line of .319/.379/.562, good for an OPS of .941. He's got plus speed, plenty of pop in his bat, and a very strong arm in the outfield. That's the good. 

The bad is a walk rate of just over 6%, defense which probably limits him to a corner spot, and major contact issues. Even with the good batting line, Castellanos has struck out nearly four times as often as he's walked this season, and that's right in line with the rest of his career as well. His numbers are also propped up in a big way by his home park; Springfield's Hammons Field is extremely conducive to power numbers. That's not to say Castellanos doesn't have power, but there's a reason so many Cardinal prospects have huge breakout offensive campaigns in Double A. 

The perfect world projection for Castellanos is probably something along the lines of the Reds' Drew Stubbs, though as I said before I don't think he has Stubbs' ability to play center field. That's not to say that isn't an intriguing player; it certainly is. Drew Stubbs is a very exciting talent, and the only thing keeping him from being an impact player at the major league level is his struggles to make contact and get on base consistently. Unfortunately, that downside is what's causing Stubbs to have a hard time staying on the ML roster in Cincinnati, and also very much the story for Castellanos. Ultimately, I think he's going to struggle to keep his on-base numbers up high enough to make it at the highest levels. 

Going forward with this, I could see the Cardinals trying to resign Furcal to a relatively short-term deal after the season, probably no more than two years, if he were amenable to it. He's only 33, but the last couple seasons have seen iffy health cut into Furcal's playing time considerably, so any longer than that would seem a bit too optimistic in my eyes. Plus, the Cards do have Ryan Jackson as a prospect in the minors, and while he isn't a can't-miss prospect by any means, he's a good enough bet that locking up a guy on the wrong side of 30 long term may be unnecessary. 

Furcal does have a $12 million option for next season, which the Cards could exercise, but I somewhat doubt they do. If healthy, he's a solid bet to be worth that number, but that's a fairly big 'if' and the Cardinals may very well be dealing with a payroll next year tighter than a (analogy deleted for wild inappropriateness). I think it more likely they decline the deal, try to ink him to a short contract, and if that fails, simply offer him arbitration in hopes he goes elsewhere and nets them an extra draft pick. He's close to being a Type B, and with solid play the rest of the season I think he could sneak in. 

So overall, a really solid pickup for a club with a huge bugaboo right in the middle of the infield. Furcal should add a win or so in value over Theriot even in just the limited time left, and if the Cardinals do somehow squeak in to the playoffs having competent defense up the middle could make a huge difference. 

And, in the end, this trade is absolutely a good deal if only because it apparently pissed off Dusty Baker. When told the Cardinals were close to a deal for Furcal, he was described as being, "visibly agitated." That's good enough for me. 
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