BREAKING: Royals Sign Omar Infante
After missing out on their top free agent target, Carlos Beltran, the Royals shifted their attention to upgrading second base and have settled on former Tigers second baseman, Omar Infante. The Royals agreed to a deal with Infante for four-years in a deal worth $30.25 million, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com. He will be 32 years old on December 26, so will play his age 32-35 seasons in a Royals uniform. Infante hit .318/.345/.450 last season with 10 homers and 54 RBI. He fits the mold of the typical Royals player in that he doesn’t walk much, but he also strikes out very little. My guess is Infante will slot in the second spot in the lineup and turn Emilio Bonifacio into the Royals utility man.
Royals second basemen were pretty atrocious as a whole in 2013, with a line of .243/.296/.304. Only the line from the shortstop position was worse for the Royals last season. Royals number two hitters also struggled (though not as much as second basemen) with a .275/.322/.380 line last season. The Royals will look to Infante to improve on both of those numbers and help to deepen a lineup that has already seen the addition of Norichika Aoki this off-season. I don’t think Infante will ever be confused with an elite defensive second baseman, but at the same time, he’s solid there, so the defense shouldn’t see much of a hit, if any while theoretically improving the offense.
I say theoretically because I don’t see Infante as a sure bet. While he was excellent in 2013, it was also his career year offensively. It was an even better season than he put together in 2010 when he was named an All-Star as a member of the Braves. The good news is that his numbers weren’t too far out of line with where they should have been based on his peripheral stats, so there’s reason for optimism when it comes to him maintaining at least close to his level of performance in 2013. In fact, since leaving Detroit the first time and heading to Atlanta, Infante has been a .296/.332/.413 hitter. My first thought when looking at Infante and his numbers is that the Royals acquired a guy who can provide something similar to what Mark Grudzielanek brought to the Royals a few years ago.
Infante without context is an okay pickup for the Royals. I didn’t have a huge problem with Emilio Bonifacio as the starting second baseman, but there’s no question that he fits better as a utility player while Omar Infante is nothing to sneeze at as a starting second baseman. The numbers tell you the same thing you learn by watching him. He won’t do anything to wow you, but he’s not someone who will hurt you too much either. The issue is in the details for Infante. If he was signed for one year, I’d be loving this deal, but for the four years he got, I can’t help but think this isn’t the best way for the Royals to spend their money.
As a player who rarely walks, he relies on his batting average to drive his offensive value, and that can fluctuate wildly due to luck related factors such as batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Over the past two years, he’s put up some decent power numbers to help offset a potential decline in batting average, but I’m not confident that will last. As a player who will be 32-35 through the life of this deal, a decline, while not inevitable, would not be the least bit surprising. Three years for Infante would be even more egregious if the Royals had anybody on the horizon to play second base, but they don’t, so I’m not terribly, terribly worked up about this, but it’s still not the move I would have made.
The other issue I have with this is simply the money involved. If the Royals are holding fast at their promise of maintaining payroll at the same level it currently is, they’ll need to make trades in order to fit Infante into the budget. Maybe that’s trading Hochevar and/or Davis, but I fear it could come from trading a guy like Billy Butler. There’s also the idea that spending roughly 10% of payroll on a middle infielder who isn’t anything especially special is probably not the greatest idea in the world. I talked about it in Friday Notes, but whether you want to worry about money or not, it’s something that has to be taken into consideration because it can greatly impact future moves.
The Royals lineup today likely looks something like this:
I’ll say this. It isn’t what I’d put out there, but it does look a lot better than what ended the season in 2013. A lot of this is dependent on Infante replicating something close to his 2013 season, but I do think he at least represents an improvement over what the Royals had run out there previously. How big of an improvement largely depends on if Infante can maintain what he did last season and has done sporadically throughout his career. If he hits like 2013, this provides a few extra runs to the Royals lineup. If he hits like he did in 2012, there’s likely not much of a difference. Ultimately, I don’t think Infante is worth the money for the risk he brings to the table. Hopefully he can find a way to maintain what he did last season and not regress before the deal is up. Let’s just say I’m skeptical that’ll be the case.
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