Omar Infante was the best second baseman available on the free agent market, after Robinson Cano signed his 10-year mega-contract with the Seattle Mariners, and the Kansas City Royals didn’t waste much time locking him up. The Royals and Infante agreed to a four-year, $30MM contract and it’s a deal that represents financial security to a 31-year-old second baseman coming off of the first three-win season of his career.
This move also helps the Royals shore up one of the weaker positions on their roster, as second baseman on the team this past season held a collective batting line of .240/.296/.306, a 17.3% strikeout rate, and just 1.2 WAR.
Over 118 games this past season Infante surpassed the production of Royals second baseman by far, in batting .318/.345/.450, striking out just 9.2% of the time, providing solid defense at second base, and producing 3.1 WAR – a new career high.
While it’s unlikely that Infante puts up another three-win season going forward he’s still being projected to produce somewhere between 2.2 and 2.6 WAR in 2014 according to the Steamer and Oliver projection systems on Fangraphs. Whether he happens to put together a 2014 season on the low or high end of those projections, it’s still a marked improvement at his position for the Royals.
The contract itself is about as fair as you can get for an aging player who plays a premium position and still has value. Essentially, the Royals are counting on Infante producing at least five WAR over the next four years and that’s a total he could accomplish in the first three years of the deal.
This is the Royals third major acquisition of the off-season after trading for outfielder Norichika Aoki from the Milwaukee Brewers and signing starting pitcher Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32MM deal.
Are these three big acquisitions enough to make them legitimate wild-card contenders and get them back into the post-season for the first time since 1985, when they won the World Series?
There are no guarantees that any move you make to bolster your team will work out but the Royals are certainly on the right track. Their infield is officially set with Eric Hosmer at first base, Mike Moustakas at third base, Alcides Escobar at shortstop, and of course Omar Infante at second base. They have one of the best young catchers in the game with Salvador Perez, and the acquisition of Norichika Aoki officially solidifies the outfield as he will man right field, Alex Gordon is in left, and Lorenzo Cain in center.
Adding Jason Vargas to the starting rotation will help ease the loss of Ervin Santana and continue the Royals trend of trotting out starters who can pitch deep into games, and ultimately contribute 200 or more innings of work through the 2014 season. Having former top prospect Danny Duffy healthy and ready to go at the start of Spring Training is also a huge boost.
This is a team that won 86 games behind a weak and powerless offense and an okay pitching staff. Now they head into 2014 with an improved offense, defense, and the expectation is that the starting rotation will likely be better with the addition of Vargas and Duffy being healthy to begin the year.
It won’t be easy, but they have done more to improve their 2014 team than any other team in their division has (with exception to the Minnesota Twins) and those wise additions should help propel them to a playoff berth for the first time in 28 years.