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Braves expecting to ink Furcal

Braves expecting to ink Furcal

ATLANTA -- The Braves are looking forward to the opportunity to once again place Rafael Furcal at the top of their lineup, which will likely also include both Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar.

A Major League source confirmed Tuesday morning that Furcal and the Braves have tentatively agreed to the terms of a three-year contract that includes a vesting option for the 2012 season.

But Furcal's agent, Paul Kinzer, said Tuesday afternoon that his client hasn't agreed to anything yet. This could simply be a case where Kinzer wants to allow the Dodgers one more opportunity to increase their bid for the 31-year-old shortstop who they've employed for the last three seasons.

"We're still talking," Kinzer said. "We haven't signed anything or come to an agreement. I told Furcal [Monday night] to sleep on it. I didn't want him to make an emotional decision."

Multiple reports have indicated that the Dodgers have previously been hesitant to provide Furcal with a guaranteed three-year contract. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti felt his team was still in the running as of Tuesday afternoon.

"I don't have a feel for whether to be optimistic or not," Colletti said. "I just know we're still talking. They assured us it's not a done deal."

Kinzer confirmed that the Braves should currently be considered the favorites to win the bidding for Furcal, who has always longed for the opportunity to return to Atlanta, where he spent the first six seasons of his career (2000-05). With the offer provided by the Braves, Furcal now has the chance to be reunited with some of his former teammates and manager Bobby Cox, who he's always considered to be a father figure.

As of early Tuesday afternoon, Furcal was still in his native Dominican Republic. Thus the earliest he could undergo a physical in Atlanta would be Wednesday.

The Braves won't be able to officially announce the signing of Furcal until he undergoes this physical, which will provide better indication about how he has healed since undergoing surgery on July 3 to repair a ruptured disc in his lower back.

After hitting .366 with a .448 on-base percentage, eight stolen bases and five homers in his first 32 games this season, Furcal was sidelined by lower back discomfort. He didn't return to action until Sept. 24 and hit .258 (8-for-31) during the postseason.

When it was learned that Furcal was likely headed back to Atlanta, there was immediate reason to wonder if the Braves would open a spot for him by trading either Johnson or Escobar. But all indications are that they have no intention to move either of these middle infielders.

Hot Stove

Instead, it appears Johnson will be heading back to left field, where he played before moving to second base before the start of the 2007 season.

While not providing any indication of their middle-infield plans, the Braves could certainly be leaning toward utilizing Furcal at second base with the hope that the position would prove less taxing on his back than at shortstop.

Another thing to consider is the potentially negative reaction the temperamental Escobar could create if he's asked to vacate shortstop and move to second base.

The opportunity to have both Furcal and Johnson in their lineup proved more appealing to the Braves than any of the options they were evaluating in their search to find a power-hitting outfielder.

With Johnson, they feel they have a player capable of hitting 15-20 homers. Matt Diaz could also see some time in left field.

More importantly with Furcal and Johnson at the top of the lineup, the Braves will provide plenty of RBI opportunities for Chipper Jones. The biggest question concerning this potential lineup is who will serve as the cleanup hitter.

While Brian McCann could be utilized in the cleanup spot, the Braves would rather have him hit in the fifth spot of the lineup.

When previously playing for the Braves, Furcal hit .284 with a .348 on-base percentage and 189 stolen bases. The Braves haven't had a player record more than 17 stolen bases during any of the three seasons that Furcal has played for the Dodgers.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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