Furcal + Oakland = ???

I tend to avoid analyzing rumors on here, but I found this one, started by Ken Rosenthal, pretty interesting. Per Rosenthal, the Athletics have "strong interest" in free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal. If true, Billy Beane and company have their eyes set on one of the better available position players, and possibly the best non-Mark Teixeira infielder, although Orlando Hudson has some say as well. After all the payroll cut and young talent amassed the past 12 months it seems as if the A's now have a sense of financial flexibility great enough to pursue a top free agent talent seriously, something they haven't been able to do since Esteban Loaiza in the winter of 2005. But does Furcal actually make sense for the A's?

The Athletics incumbent shortstop, Bobby Crosby had an absolutely miserable 2008, hitting .237/.296/.349 in a bittersweet 145 games. For the first time since 2004 Crosby played in more than 100 games, with those two seasons being the only during his major league career. There are some signs that his season was a bit unlucky though. For one, his line drive percentage was only 15.9%, below a career average of 17.6%, and Crosby's HR/FB% was only 4.2%, well below a 9.3% career mark. Unfortunately for Crosby that fails to make up for his walk rates, which were only slightly below normal at 7.8%. Crosby will turn 29 in mid-January, leaving some to wonder what happened to his rookie of the year winning days.

Furcal is not without his injury issues either, as he missed more than 130 games last season due to lower back surgery and missed time in 2007 due to a sprained ankle. At age 31 Furcal is embarking on his second tour of free agency and what could possibly be his last contract. Furcal is obviously not as good as his short stint this season would have you to believe, but he is very much capable of having an OPS around league average year in and out from the shortstop position.

How much is Furcal worth to the Athletics if it's simply an "either or" situation?

Using the methods Sky discussed here, I decided to compare the two shortstops and see how much of an edge Furcal is over Crosby. They both play shortstop, so add a quick 0.75 of a win to their amounts. "Chone" Smith has Furcal at two runs above average at shortstop and Crosby at three, which pushes their amounts to 0.95 and 1.05 respectively. Offensively Furcal roughly equals out over the last three seasons, but Crosby is good, or bad in this case, for almost -2 Batting Wins per season. Generously I gave Crosby a "in-his-statistical-prime" bump up to -1.5, which pushes his WAR down to -0.45, Furcal's WAR remains at 0.95. Converting both to replacement level add 2.25, Furcal's WAR goes up to 3.20 and Crosby's WAR to 1.80.

That alone makes Furcal worth nearly seven million more than Crosby and we're not even factoring in health. If Billy Beane can get Furcal, not only would he cement his team as potentially the best defensive club in baseball, but he also upgrades a dormant offense in one of the spots least expected. In the end it'll likely come down to money, and frankly I wouldn't blame Beane if he decides the price and length aren't worth it, but the 2009 Athletics definitely stand to benefit.

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