Furcal’s return to Dodgers in doubt

Hernandez is a Times staff writer.

Pointing to the position that Rafael Furcal plays, Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said recently that re-signing the free-agent shortstop was as much of a priority as re-signing Manny Ramirez.

“Raffy can’t take a back seat to anyone as far as I’m concerned,” Torre said.

But with Torre acknowledging that the Dodgers are concerned about Furcal’s medical history and the player’s agent saying that three other teams have made him offers, the 31-year-old leadoff hitter’s three-year stay in Los Angeles could be nearing an end. Every indication is that the Dodgers won’t offer Furcal the four-year deal that he desires, something agent Paul Kinzer said he has already received from another club.

The Oakland Athletics are “very interested” in Furcal, Kinzer said. The San Francisco Giants are also believed to be bidding to sign Furcal, who could be the first big-name free agent to find a home this winter.


Of the Dodgers, Kinzer said, “Things will clear up with them in the next few days.”

General Manager Ned Colletti said the Dodgers have “pretty much” decided how hard they’ll push to re-sign a player who was hobbled the entire 2007 season by a sprained ankle and sat out 4 1/2 months this season because of a herniated disk in his back that required surgery.

“We’re still somewhat flexible in our thought process,” Colletti said.

That’s probably because of the number of openings in the Dodgers’ infield. If the season were to begin today, James Loney would be at first base and Blake DeWitt would be at second or third. It’s anyone’s guess as to who would start at the two other infield positions.


The Dodgers would like for Furcal to be their shortstop but are reluctant to even match the three-year, $39-million contract he completed this year. The club thought it overpaid for Furcal when it signed him three years ago -- and that was before he was injured. Its thinking is at odds with that of Kinzer, who has said that Furcal’s value shouldn’t be affected by his back because he has been medically cleared by the doctor who performed the surgery and monitored his rehabilitation.

If Furcal signs elsewhere, the Dodgers’ top in-house candidate to replace him could be Angel Berroa, a capable fielder who batted only .230.

Berroa, who was acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Royals and started for most of the time when Furcal was out, had his $5.5-million option for next season declined. Because Berroa hasn’t accrued enough major league service time to become a free agent, he remains under the Dodgers’ control.

The last day to tender contracts to such players is Dec. 12, and if the Dodgers don’t re-sign him by then, they’ll probably let him go because the collective bargaining agreement forbids clubs to re-sign or tender contracts to players that would cut their salaries from the previous season by more than 20%. Berroa earned $4.75 million in 2008, meaning the Dodgers would be forced to pay him at least $3.8 million if they tender him a contract.


The Dodgers are also thinking about pursuing veteran free agents such as Orlando Cabrera or Edgar Renteria in hopes of signing them to a short deal that could buy them time until prospects Ivan DeJesus Jr. or Chin-lung Hu are ready to take over the position.

Short hops

Colletti said he hasn’t spoken to Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras, since he presented him with a two-year, $45-million offer that was later withdrawn. . . . Chad Billingsley’s leg fracture hasn’t altered the Dodgers’ off-season plans. Though Colletti said that it would be nice to add a top-of-the-rotation arm, he said he wouldn’t be overly concerned if the Dodgers went into spring training with the 24-year-old as their ace. Colletti added that there has been “no real movement” in the Dodgers’ pursuit of CC Sabathia, the prize of the free-agent market.