Omar Infante has a championship ring. He has been the starting second baseman in Game Seven of the World Series. He was nearly elected to the All-Star team last year! But now, it is time for the Royals to release Omar Infante.
It is not hard to see why the Royals signed Omar Infante to a four-year, $30 million deal before the 2014 season. The team had been without a solid second baseman since Mark Grudzielanek departed after the 2008 season. The options since then had either been no-hit (Chris Getz) or no-field (Mike Aviles, Alberto Callaspo, Johnny Giavotella). Omar Infante seemed able to both hit and field. He hit .318/.345/.450 in 2013 with the Tigers with solid defense. The Royals engaged in a bidding war with the Yankees for his services. Surprisingly, it was the Royals who won, giving him the fourth year he sought.
Since then, Omar Infante has been an abysmal baseball player. In fairness, he has suffered various injuries, from getting hit in the face with a pitch, to missing the end of last season with an oblique injury, to having elbow surgery to remove bone chips. But at this age, it is unlikely that he suddenly going to be a healthier player. And the numbers are hard to argue at this point.
Omar Infante is hitting .238/.268/.326 in a Royals uniform. That is worse than Chris Getz. That is worse than no-hit , slick-fielding, no-pants-wearing Jose Lind from the mid-90s. That is worse than former Royals pitcher Zack Greinke, who has a career line of .224/.265/.337.
Since the start of the 2014 season, no qualified hitter in baseball has a worse OPS than Omar Infante's .594, according to Fangraphs. Many of the other players near him are known either for their tremendous speed (Billy Hamilton) or defense (Andrelton Simmons). Omar Infante has neither. His defense was solid enough to keep him from being below replacement level in 2014, his first season with Kansas City. But his defensive dropped off last year and his limitations this year have caused Manager Ned Yost to bench him more. By WAR, Omar Infante has been the seventh-worst player in baseball since 2014, joining players like the recently released James Loney and washed up players like Billy Butler and Ryan Howard.
There is the matter of money. Omar Infante is owed around $13.8 million over this year and next. But that money is a sunk cost, paid to Omar Infante whether he plays baseball for the Royals or not. It it not totally unprecedented for the Royals to eat money - they released Jeff Francoeur with about $3 million left on his deal. With the Royals contending for another title, the only question should be whether or not Omar Infante is one of the 25 players that can help them reach the post-season.
He is not.
The Royals have other options. Christian Colon would be the obvious first choice. The former first-round pick has hit .291/.350/.362 in 216 plate appearances over parts of three seasons. There have been concerns about defense from the 27-year old, but the metrics show him handling the position well.
Cheslor Cuthbert has come on lately to impress with the bat, hitting .255/.271/.383 in 12 games filling in for Mike Moustakas. However, Cuthbert has played only a handful of games at second base in his professional career, and a transition to second would be difficult. His bat has been decent, but not so great that it warrants risking a defensive drop off. Still, if he can go to Omaha and learn to play second base, he might be an interesting option.
Whit Merrifield was promoted this week to the big leagues after an impressive spring training and a hot start in Omaha. The versatile 27-year old was hitting .278/.342/.458 with five home runs and 16 steals. He may serve as more of a utility player, but with his skillset, Merrifield may provide more value if he proves he can hit Major League pitching.
|2016 Rest of Season ZIPS Projections||AVG||OBA||SLG||WAR|
|Other second base options||AVG||OBA||SLG||WAR|
*-projections assume him playing first and third base
To be clear, none of these are world class options or premium prospects. But they are likely to be better than Infante, and there is even a chance one of the breaks through and is significantly better than even the projections. The Royals do have a premium prospect capable of playing second base in Raul Mondesi, who is currently out with a suspension. But until he is ready, the Royals can certainly get a long look at another in-house option, one that has more upside than the 34-year old Infante who has provided over two years of evidence that he is likely washed up.
Many on this site, myself included, praised the Omar Infante signing at the time. It was a reasonable market deal for a valuable player at a position the Royals sorely needed help. Part of being a great General Manager means identifying talent, but every GM will have a transaction backfire now and again. What can set a GM apart is identifying when it is time to part ways with a player. Having Omar Infante on the field is actively hurting the Royals' chances of contending. It is time to admit what we all know to be true - Omar Infante is not going to turn it around and it is time to see what someone else can contribute.