St. Louis Cardinals Sign Free Agent Shortstop Rafael Furcal

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 24: Rafael Furcal #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals bunts to C.J. Wilson #36 of the Texas Rangers and reaches second base after a throwing error in the third inning during Game Five of the MLB World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 24, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

As Albert Pujols was introduced to as a Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim in California, the Cardinals completed the first step in their offseason Plan B, agreeing to a contract with free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal. Derrick Goold reports in the Post-Dispatch that the deal is for two years and $14 million. The Cardinals traded for Furcal at last season's non-waiver deadline and he was instant upgrade over Ryan Theriot. Primarily batting leadoff, Furcal posted a .323 wOBA (.255/.316/.418/105 wRC+) over 50 games as a Cardinal. His range and arm were an upgrade in the field but Furcal made 10 errors in 422.1 innings at shortstop. Perhaps most importantly Furcal was the creator of the "Happy Flight" mantra of the Cardinals' improbable World Series championship run.

Bill James projects Furcal to have the following 2012 offensive statical line:

.270 BA / .338 OBP / .394 SLG / .732 OPS / .324 wOBA

If we value 1.0 WAR at the market rate of $4.5 million, the Cardinals are paying Furcal in anticipation of him providing 3.11 WAR over the two years of the deal. The James projection may be a bit optimistic but it represents the significant potential upside of the Furcal signing. Furthermore, a healthy Furcal provided 0.9 Fangraphs WAR in just 50 games with St. Louis last season. Health is indeed the key; even so, Furcal seems a fair bet to provide the Cardinals surplus value over the life of this contract.

Perhaps Mozeliak and Matheny' were okay with the idea of heading into 2012 with Tyler Greene penciled in as the club's starting shortstop. Pujols opting to leave the organization for a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Angels of Anaheim likely caused a shift in the club's Hot Stove strategy. The payroll flexibility of not paying Pujols over $20 million in 2012 and 2013 likely freed them up to ink Furcal to this deal. Greene will now shift to the bench as Furcal injury insurance and utility man, perhaps even becoming a right-handed platoon partner for Descalso at the keystone.

On Friday Goold reported that the Cardinals had checked in with free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran, hoped to bring back veteran infielder Nick Punto, and had touched base with lefty relievers J.C. Romero and Mike Gonzalez. The signing of Furcal could be the beginning of a series of free agent signings for the reigning World Series champions.

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