Fire Dayton Moore

Fire Dayton Moore
It's time.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Not the second baseman we deserved, but the second baseman we needed

If you remember my first post on, and I'm sure you do not, you'll remember I began it with a quote from "The Dark Knight." Today the Royals acknowledged their signing of second baseman Omar Infante and I can't help but think back to another quote from the same film (hint: it's the headline).

According to, the Royals will hold a press conference Tuesday morning to announce the deal, which supposedly will include a team option for 2018. So from what's been reported, Infante will receive a four-year deal worth $30.25 million plus incentives and the Royals will apparently have the option to extend that to a fifth year.

First thing's first: Omar Infante is not a sexy acquisition. Regardless of what you've been led to believe, the Royals could afford 10-years, $240 million on Robinson Cano when you factor in the revenue such a signing would have generated by itself. I already wrote about my desire to trade for Nick Franklin. I'm sure Royals fans have had their hopes set on Howie Kendrick of the Angels since the summer. The Reds have been shopping Brandon Phillips. I personally thought Mark Ellis (1-year, $5.25 million to St. Louis) would have been a decent option. And I seem to remember hearing trade rumors in the past linking the Royals to Gordon Beckham, Jose Altuve and Rickie Weeks.

Some of those players are better than Infante. Some aren't. Most are sexier names, though. Even Ellis has appeal as "the one who got away" after being traded from the Royals to Athletics in 2001 as part of the Johnny Damon dump. However, if the Royals are actually getting Infante for a little over $7.5 million a year, it's hard to argue with the value in signing him compared to chasing down any of the alternatives.

Even though the Royals could have afforded Cano, it would have been a bold move this front office isn't capable of. And Kansas City might not be Cano's favorite hotspot anyway. Franklin wouldn't have come cheap (in terms of trade assets), no matter how dysfunctional the Mariners front office may be. Kendrick would have cost even more in trade assets and will make $18.85 million the next two seasons. The asking price for Phillips wouldn't have been any less than Kendrick and Phillips will make $50 million the next four years (compared to Infante, Phillips is a half-year older and his OPS was 89 points lower than Infante's last season, despite hitting in a much friendlier home ballpark). Ellis is four years older than Infante and the biggest thing he has going for himself is he isn't Chris Getz or Johnny Giavotella.

As for Beckham and Altuve, I'd say both would have been long-shots to land simply because the White Sox are apparently refusing to commit to a full-blown rebuild and the Astros seems to be making an effort to be competitive in 2014. As for Weeks, he has the name recognition, but he's been backsliding the last three seasons and I doubt a change of scenery would be enough to reverse that trend for the 31-year-old.

But the one thing I'm absolutely certain of is the Royals could not afford to go into 2014 without upgrading at second base and hope to convince anyone they were serious contenders for a playoff spot.

I've devoted countless words to chastising Dayton Moore for failing to acquire a single serviceable second baseman since he traded away Alberto Callaspo (July 2010). I've devoted nearly as many words to pointing out the faults of Getz and Giavotella. Getz had worn out his welcome in Kansas City and I for one am wholeheartedly in favor of making Giavotella the next Mark Ellis and shipping him off to the first team that expresses interest. Was it fair for Giavotella the Royals never truly gave him a shot to win the job last season? No, but what's done is done and, barring an injury to Infante or Bonifacio, he's just going to be battling Christian Colon for at bats in Omaha now.

In Infante, the Royals may have actually taken advantage of a market inefficiency. Cano signed a contract worth nearly eight times what Infante's deal is supposedly worth. The Tigers gave up Prince Fielder to get Ian Kinsler. The Dodgers were reportedly considering trading Matt Kemp for Phillips. But the Royals snuck in and snagged Infante away from teams such as the Yankees, who also desperately needed a second baseman. And the best part is, the Royals got Infante for almost $10 million less than what he was supposedly asking for going into the winter meetings.

What does Infante bring to the Royals other than his bargain bin price tag?

His age, 31, is in the same neighborhood as all the other openly available second basemen. So even if the Royals exercise his option for a fifth season, he'll only be 36 when that contract runs out (the same age Ellis is now, to put it in perspective). With his addition, Emilio Bonifacio is now freed up to be an uber utility man with a fielding history so long on, it won't even fit on one screen (simply put, he's played every infield position left of first base and every outfield position at some point in his career).

More importantly, Infante's production is surprisingly solid. Last year with Detroit, he slashed .318/.345/.450 with 24 doubles, 10 homers, a handful of steals, just 20 walks in 476 plate appearances, but more importantly just 44 strikeouts. For his career, he's struck out more than 73 times in a season just once (112 times in an inexplicable 2004 campaign). Although his at bats have fluctuated greatly over his career, he's averaged just 51.3 strikeouts per season even with the 185 whiffs he recorded from 2004 to 2005.

The Royals were attracted to Infante for his propensity to be aggressive at the plate, put the bat on the ball and limit his strikeouts. He figures to slide in behind Norichika Aoki as the club's No. 2 hitter, so all he needs to do is set the table for Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Salvador Perez. Anything he can contribute in the form of counting stats will be a bonus. And although we already know Kauffman Stadium won't allow Royals players to walk or hit for power, his counting numbers could improve with the Royals.

Infante has spent parts of eight seasons in Detroit, hitting at Comerica Park. His career home slash line is .274/.315/.385 whereas his career road slash line is .285/.322/.419. It's only a slight difference and maybe his age will offset any uptick he might have experienced otherwise.

But at the absolute worst, the Royals have taken a position that was a black hole last season and filled it with an above-average player at a competitive price. Ben Lindberg of Baseball Prospectus wrote an incredible piece on the Infante acquisition. If you've read this far, you owe it to yourself to read his story.

Lindberg echoed some sentiments I've professed over the past year, but he did some tremendous research as well to illustrate just how abysmal Royals second basemen have been in recent years. You have to read it to believe it.

Infante isn't a player who will overly excite even the most optimistic Royals fan. But he will reverse the trend Lindberg documented. He's more than just a stopgap at second base. He's an instrumental piece of what the Royals hope will be a competitive team.

The Royals lineup and defense appears complete. If Moore wanted to trade an outfielder, he certainly could. But the focus now, without question, should be on adding another starting pitcher — even if it costs the team a draft pick. The Aoki and Infante moves mean nothing if Wade Davis starts any more than three games for the Royals in 2014. Whether they want to admit it or not, the money is there. Whether the desire is truly there remains to be seen.

Fire Dayton Moore

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