After sitting out the 2013 season, the 36-year-old infielder met last fall with Marlins executives Mike Hill and Dan Jennings and convinced them he could be their second baseman this year.
“In 25 years in the game, I’ve never sat face to face with a player and had a guy electrify me like this guy,” said Jennings, the Marlins’ general manager. “He comes to the office, and man, when he left, Mike and I looked at each other and I said, ‘I’m ready to charge through the wall.’ It was exciting.”
So what did the former Atlanta Brave say to Hill and Jennings that prompted them to give him a one-year, $3 million contract?
“I told them I love to win,” Furcal said.
He has done plenty of winning, reaching the playoffs nine times in a 14-year career. He was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals’ World Series championship team in 2011.
But while Furcal has won raves in Marlins’ camp for his enthusiasm and energy, doubts persist about his hitting and health.
His slugging percentage in 2011-12 was only .347, well below his career average of .403. And he’s coming back from elbow ligament-replacement surgery a year ago.
“I can still play,” he said. “I know I’m 36 years old, but I feel young, especially on a young team.”
If Furcal can produce enough to stay in the lineup, they should benefit enormously from his leadership. A veteran accustomed to winning stands out on a team that has endured three consecutive last-place finishes in the NL East.
“With Rafy at the top of the order getting on base, it takes some pressure off our young guys,” manager Mike Redmond said. “We don’t want to have to rely on 21- and 22-year-old kids to carry the offense.”
Furcal is part of a makeover in the Marlins’ infield, which desperately needed an upgrade. Other newcomers include first baseman Garrett Jones, third baseman Casey McGehee and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a former Atlanta Braves prospect.
Like Furcal, they’re all veterans with question marks that made other teams consider them expendable. The only holdover in the starting lineup is 23-year-old shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
To ease the strain on Furcal’s elbow, he’ll play second base after spending almost his entire career at shortstop.
“It’s a little tough when you play 14 years at one position and now you’re at second base,” Furcal said. “But we’re working on getting my timing down.”
Despite being rusty, he can draw on the experience of playing in 1,605 major-league games. That includes stints with managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, all bound for the Hall of Fame this summer.
“When you have a guy who has been around those kind of leaders, we needed that,” Jennings said.
The Marlins won’t need that much offense from Furcal to enjoy an improvement over 2013, when their leadoff batters scored 63 runs, fewest in the majors, while hitting .229. Their second basemen combined for a slugging percentage of .349, second-worst in the NL.
Furcal’s spring training start didn’t dispel doubts as to whether he represents an upgrade. He’s 2 for 16 while seeing only limited action to ensure he’s healthy for Opening Day.
When asked how much he has left in the tank, Furcal refrained from repeating the sales pitch he made last fall.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “But we’ve got to see.”