Shortstop Rafael Furcal is close to accepting a $30 million, 3-year offer to return to the Atlanta Braves.

The 31-year-old began his major league career with Atlanta, playing for the Braves from 2000-05. He spent the last three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"He liked the idea of coming back to Atlanta, but there hasn't been any formal agreement," Furcal's agent, Paul Kinzer, said yesterday. "Everything is preliminary. The whole thing with coming back home intrigued him. He still has a house here in Atlanta."

Furcal hit .357 last season with five homers and 16 RBI but had back surgery July 3 and was limited to 36 games and 143 at-bats. He returned to the lineup Sept. 24 and played in four games during the final week of the season.

Furcal was 16 and still living in his native Dominican Republic when the Braves signed him to his first contract on Nov. 9, 1996. He was a fixture at the top of the lineup from 2000-05, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2000 and making 2003 the All-Star team.

Noteworthy

* The Baltimore Orioles filled their hole at shortstop, agreeing to a $5 million, 2-year contract with free agent Cesar Izturis.

The 28-year-old Izturis batted .263 in 135 games with St. Louis this year. He ranked third in the NL with a .980 fielding percentage.

* General Motors Corp. won't be the automotive sponsor for the New York Yankees when the team's new stadium opens next year.

Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost said Toyota and Audi will take over as the club's auto sponsors. The new deals are for ballpark signage, as was the previous contract with GM.

GM spokesman John McDonald said that in light of the current economic conditions, the automaker is reviewing all of its sponsorship activities as part of a plan to cut its marketing and promotions budget by 20 percent. *