About a decade ago, a tech company was ready to unveil its newest product that it hoped would signal a leap forward. The product, an mp3 player, was released to positive reviews with tech writers noting its usable interface and sleek design. With customers downloading music at high rates, it seemed the product might be headed for huge success.
Except it just didn't work out. Microsoft's Zune came out several years after Apple had already released the iPod, and the public never tore its attention away from the sexy designs of Steve Jobs. Despite positive reviews for subsequent releases of the product, the Zune never cracked into double digits in market share. Finally, in 2011, Microsoft pulled the plug on the product, now a symbol of corporate failure, the modern-day Edsel.
In 2013, the Royals had finished second-to-last in the American League in production from second base, using a mish-mash of Chris Getz, Emilio Bonifacio, Elliott Johnson, and whatever was left of Miguel Tejada. The team was coming off years of ineptitude at the second base position, not getting a 1 WAR season out of a second baseman since Mike Aviles in 2010. Omar Infante was coming off the best season of his career, by OPS, hitting .318/.345/.450 for the Tigers at age 31. The Royals showed interest in the free agent, but had to out-bid the mighty New York Yankees, a daunting task.
In the end, the Royals surprised many by landing Infante, going an extra year by offering a fourth year to the contract, plus a mutual option for the fifth year. In all, they committed to spending $30 million over the length of the deal, seemingly solidifying the position for years to come. The deal was met with tepid approval by then-editor of Royals Review, Craig Brown.
Four years is two years to long for Infante, in my opinion, but this is a move that does make the Royals better in 2014. And that's all that matters now, right? 2014. Infante most certainly represents an upgrade over what the Royals had out there last summer. They have now addressed their most pressing lineup needs with a solid bat for right and what will probably be a league average stick at second.
As for the current editor, I was much more enthusiastic.
Terrific deal. If you’re going to do a 4 year deal, at least make it a cheap 4 year deal. Even if Infante sucks, the new GM...can DFA Infante without eating too much money unless this is severly backloaded. Infante projects to be 1.8 WAR which is a huge upgrade over last year.
It didn't quite work out that way. Omar Infante was hit in the face in his very first week of regular season action with the Royals, an injury that originally was feared to keep him out of the lineup for weeks, but instead kept him out just a matter of days. Not long after that however, he did land on the disabled list, not for the head injury he sustained, but due to a lower back injury.
He returned after three weeks, but his bat never quite recovered. He later revealed he had been battling a shoulder injury much of the second half of the season. He ended the year with a disappointing line of .252/.295/.337, but he did produce a career high in RBI with 66, not that the number was the result of much more than opportunity and good luck. The injuries did not hurt his defense either, as he was a net positive defender by dWAR, according to Baseball-Reference.
"Sometime I feel frustrated. Because this year, it’s been really tough for me, man."
Omar had his moments in the post-season that year. Although he took a complete 0-for in the ALDS against the Angels, he hit .308 in the ALCS against Baltimore, drawing three walks, and his single to open the ninth in Game 2 began a rally that would win the game for the Royals. Perhaps the best memories of him in a Royals uniform, however, came in the World Series. His double and home run in Game Two help put the Giants away to even up the series for the Royals. He added a ground-rule double in the third inning of Game 6 as part of a Royals rout to keep them alive for Game 7. Ultimately, the Royals fell short, but Infante showed enough to give hope for a rebound in 2015.
The rebound never came. The next spring, Omar failed to draw a walk until May, and by mid-June his batting average was barely above the Mendoza Line. Fortunately, the Royals were flying high in the standings despite his weak bat, and his steady glove was still a positive, even sometimes showing off the spectacular.
However, even Dayton Moore realized that the team could not go into October counting on Omar Infante at second base, so he acquired Ben Zobrist from the Athletics to spell Infante. Omar showed glimpses that he might be useful again that October, driving in a career-high seven RBI in late September. But shortly after that, he suffered an oblique strain that would keep him out of action the rest of the year. He ended the year with a line of .220/.234/.318, even worse numbers than he had in his disappointing 2014 campaign. The Royals won the World Series without him stepping on the field.
Omar came into 2016 hoping for better health. He reportedly underwent elbow surgery to clear up loose bodies, which had apparently caused him discomfort for some time, possibly leading to his shoulder issues. He continued to show a lifeless bat - his OPS was the worst in baseball by a regular in the three seasons he had worn a Royals uniform. However, when his defense became noticeably worse, possibly costing the Royals a game in Cleveland, the grumbling from fans became louder.
On June 15, 2016, with over a year and a half left on Omar Infante's deal, the Royals had enough. Now 34, Infante was hitting .239/.279/.321 upon being designated for assignment. Only two hitters in Royals history with at least 1,000 plate appearances have a worse OPS than Infante's career line of .238/.269/.328 - Onix Concepcion and David Howard.
The move is a bold one for the Royals, but clearly they are convinced that Infante will not bounce back at age 34. The old Royals might ride out the contract, hoping to extract some value from whatever is left of Omar Infante. The new Royals need to squeeze every ounce of talent from their 25-man roster to win a pennant race, and that means going with younger players like Whit Merrifield and Christian Colon, and leaving Omar Infante behind.
I don't fault Dayton Moore for signing Omar Infante and I don't even fault him for sticking with him for this long. The Royals actually deserve a fair amount of credit for cutting ties with Infante when they did. And Infante, for what its worth, handled his tenure in Kansas City with grace and dignity, never making excuses, and for the most part giving his all. It wasn't necessarily his fault his body broke down.
Sometimes even the best ideas can completely blow up in your face. The Zune was a failure. But the important thing is Microsoft cut ties and is still a very successful company. The Royals took their step to cut ties with their failure, and hopefully it will lead to an even better team down the line.