The Kansas City Royals' second basemen were pretty bad in 2013. Trading for Emilio Bonifacio in mid-August helped a bit, but he wasn’t the long-term answer, leading the Royals to go out and sign Omar Infante to a four-year, $30.25 million pact. Upgrading was a good move, but the Royals’ second base hole could’ve been upgraded with almost anyone. And Infante is more than just an "anyone."
Let's take a brief look at the Royals' second base ranks from 2013:
wRC+ wOBA ISO WAR
So, there's your confirmation. And those rankings do include Bonifacio's contributions (a 96 wRC+ in 179 plate appearances), which aren't great on the surface, but in context of Kansas City's woes at second, he was a steep upgrade over the Royals’ incumbents.
Now, we could easily rotate through a few more stats, but you get the point: Kansas City had a massive hole at second base. That’s where Infante is expected to save the day.
Which isn’t a bad bet, and such a task isn’t something out of Infante’s grasp. With the Tigers, Infante pieced together a darn good walk year. Among second basemen who logged at least 450 plate appearances, Infante’s 3.1 fWAR ranked seventh. His 117 wRC+ ranked fifth. His .346 wOBA ranked sixth. You get the point: He was very good.
But there’s a big difference between "was" and "is," and the latter is more important than the former in this case. Because we know for a fact that Infante was good last year (and in previous years), but we don’t exactly know how that solid body of previous production will translate to 2014 and three years beyond. That’s what the Royals signed up for, and that’s really all that matters.
So behold, Oliver’s projections for Infante over the life of his four-year deal with the Royals:
Add it all up and you get a total of 8.4 wins, with only a small drop off in Year 4. So if you figure the current going rate of a win is about $6 million, Infante should meet and easily surpass the $30.25 million target (the total sum of his contract). By a lot.
Well, there are some assumptions Oliver makes, and the glaring one is that it projects Infante to play in 143 games in each year. I did a quick search on Baseball-Reference's Play Index tool to see how many 34-year-old second basemen logged 143 games, and it returned just 20 players who met the criteria. At 35, (how old Infante will be in the final year of his contract), we find just 14 players.
Of course, history is history, and Infante isn’t someone we’d classify as injury prone. A quick glance at his Baseball Prospectus’ injury log reveals just one big injury over the past four years: An ankle sprain in 2013 (as a result of a collision at second), which robbed him of 33 games. There is 2009, when he missed 73 games due to hand surgery. There’s also the 32-game absence in 2008 (recovery from hand surgery). But those are freak incidents that don’t necessarily reflect on Infante’s injury proneness. Bottom line: It’s not worth dwelling over a few injuries.
Still, betting on Infante to play in 143 games through his age 35 season isn’t what I’d call a safe bet. It’s possible, yes. Is it likely? Perhaps not.
If there is a positive here for Infante, it's that he can still be very productive in less than a full season. Just take 2013, for example, when he amassed three-plus wins in 118 games (476 plate appearances). But that positive gets clouded by the fact that his 3.1 fWAR does stand out as a bit of an outlier.
Note: Just twice in his first eight years in the majors did Infante get at least 400 plate appearances. Take that for what it's worth.
2012 is close. Really close. Otherwise, though, Infante has never really been a huge WAR hero, which isn’t necessary, of course. The Royals aren’t paying him to be Mike Trout.
Let’s just get this clear, though: A 3.1 fWAR pops out as a type of trend that Infante probably won’t repeat. The projections don’t see it happening. You could also point to the fact that Infante reaped the benefits of a .333 BABIP. Except, that’s sort of Infante-ish, as his career BABIP sits at .310, and he’s surpassed the .335 mark twice in his career (not including 2002, when he earned just 75 plate appearances).
Infante is, however, an aging middle infielder. That means he’ll have to keep smacking line drives, because he won’t be able to hit .268 on ground balls forever; his already average speed will start to erode to the point where infield hits become easy outs. Plus, he doesn’t hit for much power.
How about a couple of examples: 2011 and 2012. By wRC+’s reckoning, Infante was a below average hitter in both years--not by much, but below average, at that. During both of those years, his BABIP sat a few ticks under the .300 mark and he didn’t quite hit as many line drives as he did in 2013. Hence the "below average" label.
Of course, we’re starting to nitpick a bit while hiding what Infante signing with the Royals really means: The Royals got much better by signing Infante, who should out-produce his contract. There are a handful of negative trends, sure. But for less than $8 million a year, an average version of Omar Infante is still considerably better than Kansas City’s alternatives.
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Jake Dal Porto is a writer at Beyond The Box Score and Golden Gate Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @TheJakeMan24.