Off Base
Good for Raffy

December 22, 2008, 9:56 p.m. Good for Ned. Good for the Dodgers.

Forget the crap you're hearing about how the McCourts are cheap because they wouldn't go $160 mil for CC Sabathia, and how the club is moving too slowly this offseason.

Bringing back Rafael Furcal for three more years is a major deal. Huge. And a great start. So what if it's later than normal.

Furcal is worth every penny of what he's getting, and he's worth exponentially more to the Dodgers in particular. The Atlanta Braves were right about one thing: Raffy is a special player.

Leadoff-hitting shortstops don't grow on trees, palm or otherwise, and the club has no one in the organization even remotely close to being a capable replacement.

Maybe Furcal will play 450 games in three seasons. Or perhaps he'll break down next summer. With Joe Torre as his manager the latter is more likely than it oughta be, but perhaps with at least this one player in 2009, Torre will come to believe that it's his job to decide when rest is advisable, not the player's. While it's not a complicated concept, there's no telling whether the skipper will get it or not (see Russell Martin), but we can cross our collective fingers, can't we?

Besides, Furcal for 100 games a year is better than any of the alternatives the Dodgers were threatening. Jack Wilson? Please. Chin-Lung Hu? God no; not even as a backup.

As I've been saying for weeks, this was an absolute must-convert for Los Angeles, and they absolutely do get credit for making it happen. The Atlanta brass can whine till they're Dodger blue in the face, but no one outside of the deep south cares a lick.

The Braves don't matter all that much in Georgia, and we're certainly not going to lose any sleep over them here. And it's funny, with Scott Boras serving as the industry's sole agent-you-love-to-hate, representatives like Furcal's pretty much get a pass on whatever liberties they might take for a client. Anyway, Dodgers win, Atlanta loses.

So the Dodgers have seven of their eight regulars returning, and a chance for a full complement. Manny would be extremely nice to have back, and they should make a genuine effort, but either Xavier Nady or Bobby Abreu will work better than you might think.

By not going whole hog with one nine-figure player like CC Sabathia, or giving in to Ramirez when the American League beckons, the Dodgers can bid higher for puzzle pieces, plural, than their competition, and come out ahead as a team.

They should start by grabbing Braden Looper for the rotation. A solid reliever for the first eight years of his career, Looper is two years into his development as a starter, and about to blossom in 2009. He started 31 games in 2007, 33 in 2008; pitched 175 innings the first year, 199 in the second; walked just 51 in '07 and 45 last season. ERAs of 4.94 his first year as a starter, and 4.16 in 2008.

Looper's had the best of instruction from the Cards' Dave Duncan, and would benefit as a member of a tradition-rich pitching organization like the Dodgers. Randys Johnson and/or Wolf would be good free agent pickups as well, but Looper is the find of the winter. Mark my word.

Next, the Dodgers should turn to lefty reliever Will Ohman, late of the Braves, and right-hander Juan Cruz of Arizona, free agents both, and audition Eric Stults in the pen. Why that hasn't been tried vigorously is beyond me.

Then fork out for a legitimate backup catcher like Brad Ausmus, and a fourth outfielder who plays all three spots and can hit at times. No, Juan Pierre does not qualify for the position, but Jacque Jones just might.

Lastly, forget Hu and Dodger Berroa and get a valuable 25th man in Omar Vizquel to round out the squad. Vizquel will perk up as a second string shortstop, fill in ably at second and third on occasion, pinch run professionally, and lay down a perfect bunt when you need one. On that last point, again, Juan Pierre does not qualify.

There, I fixed the team. No need to thank me…

Talkback: Your comments are always encouraged…

Media Savvy: A bittersweet look at the closing of Dodgertown, straight from the source. The TC Palm.

If you haven't been to lately, it's worth a visit just for a feature called "The SI Vault," which celebrates articles from back issues of the magazine. You know, before there was this thing called the Internet. Check out this slice-of-free-agent life piece by Larry Keith, circa, 1976.

Along the same lines, see "The Daily Mirror" section of every so often. And in particular, this-day-in-L.A. look at December 19, 1958. Dobie Gillis and Pee Wee Reese, together again for the first time…

Statue for Sandy: The Koufax in bronze campaign continues. Please Vote “Yes on 32.” And tell a friend…

Remember, glove conquers all….






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