- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Rafael Furcal and his agents have quietly spent the week meeting personally with the Cubs and Braves. A meeting with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was scheduled for Tuesday night.
Those sessions signal that the Cubs, Braves and Dodgers are the three teams left in what was once a furious scramble to sign the best free-agent shortstop on the market.
Furcal's primary agent, Paul Kinzer, said that he and Furcal spent Sunday and Monday in Chicago, meeting with Cubs GM Jim Hendry and other Cubs personnel. Kinzer then met Tuesday morning with Braves GM John Schuerholz.
Another one of Furcal's agents, Adam Katz, was scheduled to meet Tuesday evening with the Dodgers. After that meeting, Kinzer said, Furcal could make a decision quickly on which team he'll sign with.
"I would expect he'll make his decision in the next few days," Kinzer said, "just out of respect for the teams involved. We know that if they're not going to be the team that signs Raffy, they need to move along in pursuit of other options. And we respect that. So we would hope to have a decision before the winter meetings [next week in Dallas]."
Kinzer declined to characterize his negotiations with any team. However, the buzz around baseball is that the Cubs are leading this race.
The Cubs have made no secret of their desire to install Furcal in their leadoff hole. And they've made him their top offseason priority. Furcal is friendly with Cubs infielders Aramis Ramirez and Neifi Perez, and he has gotten phone calls from Greg Maddux, Perez and manager Dusty Baker. It's believed the Cubs have squirreled away a major portion of their holiday shopping money to get Furcal signed; a source familiar with the negotiations told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that the Cubs had offered Furcal a five-year deal that was greater in both years and dollars than the offer the Braves had made.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry spent several hours delivering his pitch to Furcal on Sunday in Atlanta.
"If he chooses to stay in Atlanta, obviously nobody could fault him for that," Hendry told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "I just told him what we're trying to do, what my plan may be for the next month, be open and honest.
"Obviously, he's been in an outstanding situation for a long time in Atlanta, playing for a great manager, Bobby Cox," Hendry told the AP.
On the other hand, indications are that the Braves have asked Furcal to give them a hometown discount. Teams that have talked to Atlanta say the Braves have been aggressively searching for potential replacements if Furcal leaves -- primarily Tampa Bay's Julio Lugo and (to a lesser degree) Kansas City's Angel Berroa. Some clubs have taken that as a sign the Braves are far from optimistic they can keep Furcal.
The Dodgers are a late entry, primarily because Colletti was hired so recently. Their shortstop, Cesar Izturis, had Tommy John surgery in September, and his prognosis is uncertain. Still, the Dodgers' expression of serious interest has surprised teams that expected them to plow more of their money into their outfield and rotation.
The Mets, who had chased Furcal hard earlier in the winter, now are apparently out of this race -- in part because they wanted him to change positions and play second base.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Rafael Furcal is expected to decide where he'll sign before next week's winter meetings, Jayson Stark reports.