Omar Infante a perfect fit for Royals' second base hole
The 2013 Kansas City Royals went 86-76. They finished seven games behind in the AL Central and 5 1/2 games behind the second American League wild-card team in what was their first winning season since 2003 and second since 1994. They did that despite their second basemen hitting .243/.296/.304 with a collective 74 OPS+. Only the last-place Cubs and Blue Jays (who shared Emilio Bonifacio with Kansas City) received worse performances from their second basemen in 2013. As a result, no team (with the possible exception of the Yankees, who just lost Robinson Cano) would have benefited more from bringing the reliably league-average Omar Infante in to fill their second base hole than the Royals. And that's exactly what they just did, coming to terms with Infante on a four-year, $30 million contract.
That might sound like a big contract for a middling player like Infante, but the Royals have clearly moved on from former prospect Johnny Giavotella. Giavotella turns 27 in July, has hit .240/.278/.335 in 424 major league at-bats, and, in the hitter-friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League this past season put up lesser numbers than Infante did for the Tigers. Fellow prospect Christian Colon is younger (25 in May) but hit just .273/.335/.379 in the PCL last year and has yet to make his major league debut.
By comparison, Infante has hit .296/.332/.413 over the last six seasons, which works out to a 100 OPS+, meaning he is a league-average hitter and thus an above-average-hitting second baseman (the average second baseman in 2013 hit .263/.323/.387, albeit with a 99 OPS+). Mix in above-average fielding and, as a regular over the last four seasons, Infante has been worth an average of 2.7 wins above replacement according to Baseball-Reference's WAR. Generally speaking, two wins above replacement represents an average major league regular. Infante, despite his erroneous selection as an All-Star utility man in 2010, is not a star, and he'll be 35 in the final year of his contract, the age at which second basemen tend to hit the wall. For the next four years, however, he should prevent second base from being a problem for a Royals team largely stocked with young, team-controlled talent at the other everyday positions. He'll do it for $7.5 million a year, which is roughly the going rate for league-average regulars these days, if not a tick below.Rays were trying to do something similar in inking James Loney for three years, but they likely overestimated Loney's abilities. The Royals, however, have found the perfect solution for their second base problem in Infante, a move which nicely echoes the trade for Norichika Aoki to fill right field. It will still be up to Kansas City's homegrown players to lead the way forward in 2014, but with Aoki and Infante in place there should be nothing holding them back.