SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Dominican shortstop Rafael Furcal acknowledged Sunday that the Atlanta Braves face a tough road ahead next season.
Atlanta will not retain starter Greg Maddux - the last remnant of a starting rotation that dominated the National League during the past decade - third baseman Vinny Castilla, catcher Javy Lopez and outfielder Gary Sheffield.
"The departure of Sheffield, Vinny, Javy and Maddux is a tremendous loss for the Braves," Furcal said in San Juan, where he was playing in an all-star game between the Dominican and Puerto Rican winter leagues.
"It will be a bit difficult," the 2000 National League Rookie of the Year added.
Furcal was leaving out hope that the Braves would open their wallet and sign one of the hottest free agents left on the market, fellow countryman Vladimir Guerrero, right-fielder for the Montreal Expos last season.
"The only one who can substitute Sheffield is Guerrero," Furcal said. "He is one of the best sluggers in the big leagues."
Furcal's hopes to add Guerrero as a teammate probably ended Saturday when the Braves acquired outfielder J.D. Drew from the St. Louis Cardinals in the first trade of the winter meetings in New Orleans.
Furcal, 26, had his best offensive season in 2003, batting .292 with 15 home runs, 194 hits and 130 runs scored.
The shortstop, who smacked 16 home runs in his first three years in the major leagues, was surprised at his sudden power.
"Home runs don't go through my mind," Furcal said. "Those were 15 good swings."
He attributed last year's success in part to his annual participation in the Dominican winter league where he plays with the Escogido Lions.
Furcal said he would always return to his Caribbean homeland to play ball in the winter despite his multimillion dollar status.
"I am one of those who doesn't play just for the money," he said. "I play baseball because it's the only thing I know how to do."
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