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Furcal, Dodgers finalize 3-year, $39M contract

DALLAS -- Now the Los Angeles Dodgers have a healthy
speedster at shortstop to go along with their new manager and GM.

Rafael Furcal finalized a $39 million, three-year contract with
the Dodgers on Wednesday, leaving the Atlanta Braves and filling
two important needs for Los Angeles: a proven leadoff hitter and a
replacement for injured All-Star Cesar Izturis.

"I came to the Dodgers because they gave the better deal to me
and I'm very excited to be here," Furcal said at baseball's winter
meetings before pulling on his No. 15 Dodgers jersey. "They wanted
me so bad to play for them."

Ned Colletti replaced Paul DePodesta as Los Angeles' GM on Nov.
16 and immediately began looking for a new manager to replace Jim
Tracy. The search ended Tuesday when former Boston manager Grady
Little was hired.

But Colletti also found time to jump in late on the Furcal
chase, and the Dodgers beat out Atlanta and the Chicago Cubs for
the 2000 NL Rookie of the Year.

"We've stayed after it. I think we're sitting in a pretty
decent position considering the calendar and when it began,"
Colletti said.

Furcal and the Dodgers agreed to the deal Saturday, but it was
not announced until he passed a physical. He had spent his entire
six-year career with the Braves, who have won a record 14
consecutive division titles.

"They had a lot of chances to sign me," he said. "I'm coming
from a team that's been in the playoffs every year. Now that I'm
with the Dodgers, I'm going to try to make something happen every
year, too."

The Braves might not be without a shortstop for long. They were
closing in on a three-team trade with Boston and Tampa Bay that
apparently would land them Edgar Renteria.

Furcal packs plenty of energy and even some power into his
5-foot-10, 165-pound frame. The switch hitter batted .284 last
season with 12 homers, 58 RBI, 100 runs and 46 stolen bases in 56
attempts. He also had 31 doubles and 11 triples.

Furcal finished third in the NL in steals this year with only 12
fewer than the Dodgers, who ranked 15th in the league in that
category. He made just 15 errors and has one of the strongest
throwing arms of any infielder in baseball.

"There are some components in this game that are very difficult
to find. One of them is a leadoff man and another is a top-flight
shortstop that has a plus glove," Colletti said.

A .284 career hitter with a .348 on-base percentage, Furcal
scored 130 runs in 2003, when he made the NL All-Star team.

Izturis, an All-Star shortstop last season and a Gold Glove
winner in 2004, is coming off reconstructive surgery on his
throwing elbow and isn't expected to play until at least July.
There's even speculation that he could miss the entire season.

"Who knows about anything in July? I don't know what's going to
happen tomorrow, let alone July," Colletti said. "There could be
a lot of twists and turns.

"He's been through a surgery and a rehab that there's not a lot
of history to at that position. It was important to have a
top-flight shortstop when the season began."

Izturis could shift to second base when he returns, with
All-Star second baseman Jeff Kent moving to first.

Colletti said he spoke to Kent recently about such a
possibility.
"Is he excited about changing positions? I don't think any
player who's had a great career is excited about changing
positions," Colletti said. "I think he's excited about having a
chance to win."

Furcal will receive $9 million next year, with $5 million of
that to be called a signing bonus. He gets $13 million in cash in
each of the following two seasons, and there is a final $4 million
payment in January 2009.

• In other news: The Dodgers said they would offer arbitration to
free-agent pitcher Jeff Weaver before Wednesday night's deadline.
They also agreed with Olmedo Saenz on a two-year, $2 million deal to retain the
backup infielder.

"We're glad to have him back. It's another bat off the bench,"
Colletti said.

The Dodgers said decisions were still pending on whether to
offer arbitration to their other free agents: catcher Paul Bako,
right-hander Elmer Dessens, right-hander Darren Dreifort and
infielder Jose Valentin.

Players who became free agents and weren't offered arbitration
can't re-sign with their former clubs until May 1. Players offered
arbitration have until Dec. 19 to accept and can re-sign through
Jan. 8.

The Dodgers were 71-91 last season -- one year after going 93-69
to win their first NL West championship since 1995. They began
their managerial search after Tracy left, but DePodesta was fired
as the team's GM on Oct. 29, just as his search for a manager was
winding up.