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Royals looking at Infante, Asdrubal Cabrera switcheroo

Not a trade. But kind of.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It's been reported that the Royals have put Omar Infante on the chopping trading block. Only one season into his 4 year, $30.25M contract, it may be that the Royals have soured on him. At the same time, there's this:

Was Infante really that bad? Yea, he was bad. He garnered only 0.5 fWAR. He slashed .252/.295/.337 for a 76 wRC+. He was well below his career value in offensive production. However, his defense was probably average. That's something. Also, remember that elbow injury at the beginning of the season? Remember how Infante had trouble making throws at the end of the season? It's not crazy to suggest that Infante's poor production was injury-related.

And, you know, Steamer agrees. For 2015, Infante is projected for a .274/.312/.377 line and 1.5 fWAR in 122 games/521 PA. There's some time built in there for injury. There's some built-in regression for his really low .275 BABIP. Yes, Infante was bad in 2014. There are reasons to expect him to be better in 2015. Given the apparent salary inflation we're seeing on the market this year, Infante really needs to be worth only about a win in each of the next 3 years for his contract to be "worth it". If Infante hits 1.5 fWAR next year and then follows a 1.0-0.5 aging curve, he'll be worth 3 wins.

That's not to say that the Royals shouldn't try to upgrade. He is being paid a significant amount of money. That's where Asdrubal Cabrera supposedly comes in. Cabrera is younger and a stronger offensive performer. Consider this, however. Each player's line for the past 3 years.

Omar Infante 402 1639 28 31 4.5% 10.8% 0.121 0.298 0.279 0.311 0.400 0.310 93 5.1 -6.8 14.5 6.5
Asdrubal Cabrera 425 1794 44 28 7.6% 17.9% 0.153 0.286 0.251 0.315 0.404 0.316 101 0.1 3.0 -14.1 5.0

As a shortstop, Cabrera's line looks a whole lot better. The Royals wouldn't be acquiring Cabrera to play short, though. He'd be replacing Infante. Over the past 3 years, it appears that the defensive value Infante has brought to the table has been worth more than the offensive gap between the two players. In addition, Cabrera is projected for a .251/.316/.397 line and 1.4 fWAR. The FanGraphs crowdsourcing project gives Cabrera 3 years, $33M.

The tradeoff comes down to this. Cabrera has more power, but Infante brings better defense. In order for Cabrera to be worth it over Infante, he needs to be better enough at defense at second base compared to shortstop to offset the increase in AAV salary, which will be roughly $3-5M. Note that he doesn't have to be better than Infante at defense due to his slightly higher offensive production.

Of course, this does not consider the potential Infante trade. Some say that the Royals will have to pick up some of Infante's salary. I don't really know that's the case; Infante is guaranteed ~$25.25M over the next 3 years (including a $2M buyout of his 2018 option). If Infante were on the free agent market right now, I'd surmise that 3/$25M is probably in the range of offers he would get (maybe 2 years with a higher AAV). However, the more salary the Royals pick up, the better return they'll get.

Given perceived payroll constraints, I don't see the Royals trading Infante and picking up his salary, and then turning around and signing Asdrubal Cabrera. Christian Colon, or even Johnny Giavotella (NOT), would be in line for the job if Infante were traded. I also don't see the necessity for the move to begin with. This is probably just one of those Winter Meetings hot stove rumors. Infante, despite his poor 2014, should be expected to be better in 2015. I'd rather have Infante at 3/$25M than Cabrera at 3/$33M + prospect + Infante money. I'd rather have Infante at 3/$25M than Colon + prospect + Infante money.

If, however, the Royals can trade Infante for a decent return without picking up any salary, I might be more amenable.