With Rafael Furcal moving closer to making a decision on where to sign, the Oakland Athletics appear to be in the lead to sign the free-agent shortstop, with an offer of four years and $40 million, according to sources.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, who declined to offer Furcal arbitration earlier this month, have remained engaged but do not appear to be close to Oakland's proposal. The Kansas City Royals have interest and need but may not have the flexibility to make a deal. The Toronto Blue Jays have had interest -- and need -- in Furcal, but they have dropped out of the bidding entirely.
Earlier this month, the Athletics had offered about $9 million per year over a four-year deal for Furcal, but at that time, talks broke off; Furcal's side requested $13 million annually -- which was Furcal's salary last season -- over four years. But the market for shortstops, like the market for relievers and corner outfielders/designated hitters, seems to have been impacted by the number of teams that are either holding payrolls in place or making cuts in anticipation of the worsening economy.
If the Athletics land Furcal, he will likely hit at the top of what should be an improved Oakland lineup. Last month, the Athletics traded for All-Star left fielder Matt Holliday.
Furcal, 31, has missed 150 games over the past two seasons but makes an impact when he does play -- he batted .357, with a .439 on-base percentage, in 36 games for the Dodgers last season, after hitting .270 with 25 steals in 2007.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.