It has been two weeks since Rafael Furcal last played. He has been the Dodgers' best player this year, by far. His contract expires this fall. In his absence, top shortstop prospect Chin-lung Hu has appeared so overmatched offensively that the Dodgers replaced him with a career minor leaguer.

Furcal has a bad back, and bad backs can flare up at any time. Do the Dodgers dare invest, say, $60 million over four years in him? He'll be 31 this fall, at a demanding position.

In 2003, the Angels invested $70 million over five years in a guy who did not play for seven weeks that year because of a bad back. The Dodgers passed on Vladimir Guerrero during their ownership transition. The San Francisco Giants passed too. His back has held up.

Dodgers and Giants, united in sorrow

Guerrero never has had a teammate hit 30 homers in a season, but the Giants could have batted him behind Barry Bonds. As he retired Friday, Giants owner Peter Magowan said he regretted not pursuing Guerrero.

"I remember the baseball guys saying we've got some reservations about him with his back," Magowan told the San Francisco Chronicle. "In retrospect, he's certainly a guy we wish we'd have been able to get."

Try some patience: It's free!

The New York Yankees didn't climb above .500 for good until July 14 last season, and they still made the playoffs. It might be embarrassing that they're in last place in the American League East, even more so that they're looking at the Tampa Bay Rays in first place, but there's nothing devastating about trailing by five games in May, with Alex Rodriguez expected to return this week.

There's nothing guaranteed, of course, in a season in which the Yankees asked their young starters to carry the flag. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy haven't won in a combined 12 starts, with Hughes on the disabled list and Kennedy back from the minors.

Son of Boss bellowed again, as if the Yankees' players were chattel.

"What bothers me is that these guys are all working for me and my brother, and they're all making more money than we are," Hank Steinbrenner told the New York Daily News. "That's what makes me mad."

Mercenaries in pinstripes? What part of a $200-million payroll would ever give him that idea?

Yankees, Red Sox, blah, blah, blah

ESPN and Fox provide such an overdose of the Yankees and Boston Red Sox that the affliction has infected other news outlets. Take, a highly regarded political website that scored an interview last week with President Bush.

Mike Allen, the interviewer, asked Bush to pick the one position player and one pitcher he would select if he were starting a team and cost were no object. Bush chose second baseman Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies, noting the value of a big bat in the middle of the infield, and pitcher Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays.

And how did Allen respond to those enlightened choices?

"We thought you were going to go A-Rod, Josh Beckett," Allen told Bush.


Red rover, red rover, send Nelson right over

Nelson Figueroa had been out of the majors since 2004 until the New York Mets gave him a few starts this year. He lost his last one last week -- to the Washington Nationals, the worst-hitting team in the National League.

"They were cheerleading in the dugout like a bunch of softball girls," Figueroa said. "I'm a professional just like anybody else. I take huge offense to that. If that's what a last-place team needs to do to fire themselves up, so be it."

The Mets cut him the next day.

-- Bill Shaikin

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