Signing Omar Infante to a four year, $30 million deal back in 2013 seemed like a good idea at the time. But here we are two years into the deal, and Omar Infante has hit .238/.268/.329 in 259 games with the Royals. He has provided good enough defense, but it hasn't been enough to overcome his atrocious bat. Out of 34 second baseman with at least 500 plate appearances over 2014-2015, Infante ranked 32nd in rWAR with 0.0. If the Royals decide to bring back Ben Zobrist, Omar might find himself with even less playing time, giving the Royals a very expensive 34-year old infielder on their bench.
Can the Royals move on from Omar Infante? His trade value is negative right now. Infante is owed $7.75 million in 2016, $8 million in 2017, and a $2 million buyout in 2018 when his $10 million club option is declined for a total of nearly $18 million. Even if Infante is healthier than he was in the past two seasons when shoulder and elbow injuries cost him playing time, he is reaching his mid-30s, typically a bad age for second basemen. If the Royals do wish to trade him, they have three options.
Eat the money and move on
Infante's contract is guaranteed, so he's getting his paychecks no matter what. If the Royals feel their 25-man roster is better off without him, they can see Infante for what he is, a sunk cost, and designate him for assignment. Perhaps they could swing a deal with a club to take on a small part of the contract, or at least throw them a non-prospect minor leaguer. But realistically the Royals aren't getting anything of value of Infante, and will almost certainly have to absorb nearly all, if not the complete entirety of Infante's remaining contract. The Royals have not been too willing to eat money in the past, but perhaps now that they are contenders, putting forth the best 25-man roster will trump financial concerns.
Send a player of value in a deal to get another team to eat the contract
This strategy has become en vogue recently with the Braves throwing in a player of value in Craig Kimbrel to entice the Padres to eat the remainder of the huge albatross contract for Melvin Upton last winter. The Royals likely don't want to break up their World Championship core, so forget throwing in a Major League player to get a team to take on the Omar Infante contract. And with the minor league system depleted from the Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist trades, it seems very unlikely the Royals would send a prospect or two to get a team to take on Infante. So while this may be a creative option, the Royals don't seem to be in a position to make this maneuver.
Trade for another team's bad contract
One man's trash is another man's treasure! Dayton Moore has pulled this move off once before, sending awful left-handed pitcher Jonathan Sanchez to Colorado for pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who had been a disaster with the Rockies. Those were both short-term contracts, but Dayton could swap the remaining two years of Infante's deal to a team looking to get rid of a bad contract of their own and fill another area of need. Here are some candidates that could use a change of scenery.
This possibility was raised by Steve Adams at MLB Trade Rumors and echoed by David Hill at Kings of Kauffman. Garza had a 5.63 ERA last year in Milwaukee, but had a 3.64 ERA in 2014 and is only 32 years old. The right-hander had some home run issues last year but moving to Kauffman Stadium could help his numbers. On the flip side, his strikeout numbers have declined for five consecutive seasons and his financial situation is a bit sticky. He is owed $25 million over the next two years with a dangerous $13 million vesting option in 2018, plus $2 million in deferred payments each year through the year 2021. The Royals would have to work it out with Milwaukee so that they are not making their financial burden a lot worse, but Garza does provide more value than Infante as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Why the Brewers make the deal: Matt Garza has fallen out of favor in Milwaukee, having been demoted to the bullpen in August, much to his ire, then asked not to return from paternity leave in September. The Brewers are in a rebuild, so they don't really need a poor-hitting 34-year old second baseman. However second baseman Scooter Gennett is coming off a lousy season and Infante could spell him and provide some defensive help for a young pitching staff. Really, the only reason to expect the Brewers to do this deal is if they're motivated to move Garza and save some money.
Danks is owed $14.25 million in 2016, the final year of his contract. He has posted an ERA of 4.70 or higher in each of the last four seasons and will turn 31 next April. The lefty has seemingly confounded the Royals with his slow changeup, so perhaps he could serve as a veteran arm in the rotation. Danks' flyball tendencies might play well at Kauffman Stadium, where he has a 2.14 ERA in 13 career starts.
Why the White Sox make the deal: Chicago suffered from an atrocious defense last year, so Infante's glove could help them out up the middle. Micah Johnson is slated to start at second, but he is far from a sure thing and Infante could help ease him along. Danks does have a limited no-trade clause where he can block a deal to six teams, but it is not known if the Royals are on that list.
Niese was a bit better than a replacement level pitcher last year and did not even make the Mets post-season rotation. Getting sent to the bullpen in favor of Steven Matz, who had made just six Major League starts, was not a good sign for Niese's future in New York. He is still just 29 and is owed $9 million next year with two favorable club options for $10 million in 2017 and $11 million in 2018, and $500,000 buyouts on those options. Niese has seen his strikeout rates fall over the last four years and last year he had the seventh-lowest strikeout rate among qualified pitchers at 5.7 per-nine-innings. Still, he could be a solid 1-2 WAR pitcher in the back of the rotation.
Why the Mets make the deal: The Royals would probably have to kick in some money and/or a player of value as Niese is owed less than Infante and is a better player. But the Mets could use Infante's slick glove at second to replace Daniel Murphy, especially after the infield served as a defensive liability in October. Niese does not figure to be in the Mets plans next year as they already have a stable of young arms ready to go in the rotation.
The Braves are in major cost-cutting mode and would probably like to get Michael Bourn's $14 million salary in 2016 off the books. Around $5 million of that salary is being paid for by the Cleveland Indians, who originally signed Bourn back when he was a good player. Bourn has been near replacement-level the last three seasons and hit just .238/.310/.282 in 2015. He might be able to provide some defensive value, particularly if he moves to left field, and he still has some speed left. However, with Jarrod Dyson on the roster, it seems rather redundant to carry Bourn.
Why the Braves make the deal: The Braves could certainly use a second baseman, but they have little use for an expensive one. Infante makes much more than Bourn for one more year, so the Royals would likely have to save the Braves some money somehow to make this deal work, and for a player like Bourn, that's probably not worth it to the Royals.
Others: Ricky Nolasco is a pitcher that has historically underperformed his FIP and could benefit from playing in front of the Kansas City defense. Nolasco has been lousy with the Twins (5.64 ERA in 36 starts), but they would have no use for Infante with All-Star Brian Dozier already in tow. Giants outfielder Angel Pagan would be a candidate to bounce back in left-field, but San Francisco has Joe Panik at second base. The Dodgers are shopping Carl Crawford, but unless they're willing to eat a lot of money, his contract is too much for the Royals to absorb.