The writing is on the dugout wall. Omar Infante’s days in Kansas City are numbered.
Facts are facts. The Royals now feel they have at least two better options that Infante on their 25-man roster. In the Royals last 20 games, Infante has made four starts at second. Whit Merrifield has registered 13 starts. And when the White Sox rolled out three consecutive left-handed starters over the last weekend, Christian Colon started all three while Merrifield took his versatile glove to left.
At the moment, it looks like the Royals are going with Merrifield at second and a double-barrel platoon on the outfield corners. Against lefties, Merrifield and Paulo Orlando will get the starts. When a right-hander is on the mound, Jarrod Dyson will get the nod with an occasional start by Reymond Fuentes. This will become even more pronounced in the next few days as I agree with my colleague that the most likely move when Brett Eibner is eligible to come off the DL is the demotion of Fuentes.
Infante’s last good season was 2013. Unfortunately he made his debut with the Royals in 2014, signing with the Royals as a free agent in December of 2013. His contract was for four years at just over $30 million. Naturally, it includes a mutual option for a fifth year.
As it stands, the Royals owe Infante around $4 million for the remainder of this season, along with $8 million in 2017 and $2 million to buyout his $10 million option for 2018. That’s a nifty sum of $14 million committed to a second baseman who has yet to provide any value whatsoever.
In exchange for a four year contract, here’s the production they have received.
These are some ugly, nasty numbers. There’s no way to sugarcoat this. The Royals, as they are wont to do when they make mistakes, attempted to justify Infante by citing his defense at second. While at times, it’s been passable, it’s never been otherworldly. The Fielding Bible is kinder than FRAA, but not by much.
|YEAR||+/-||Runs Saved||Rank at 2B|
The Fielding Bible numbers pass my personal eye test. The ocular nerves tell me that he’s a worse defender this year than at any time in his Royals tenure. As mentioned above, he’s been passable at second up until this season. Now? A defensive disaster.
Infante’s last start came on June 2, which is the date of the infamous collapse in Cleveland. You know the game. The one that ended a seven-game winning streak and kickstarted an eight-game losing streak. In that game, Kelvin Herrera gave up a single to Mike Napoli in the eighth with the Royals holding a two run lead. After a strikeout and a walk, Yan Gomes bounced one to Alcides Escobar at short. It was a double play ball. As Uncle Hud says, “First man sure, second man quick.” Well, Escobar was sure, delivering a strike to Infante at second. The quick part? Not so much. Infante spiked the throw and kept the inning alive.
An extreme example to be sure, but Infante’s double play rate at second has dropped in each of his three years in Kansas City.
|YEAR||GIDP Opps||GIDP||GIDP %|
The defensive decline is not that surprising. Age and injury conspire against all athletes. In Infante’s case, the intersection has been especially unforgiving. His elbow still isn’t right, meaning he can’t make a strong throw to first off his back leg when necessary. Then, just the normal age-related decline in range and it’s easy to understand how his defense value has plummeted. What we’re seeing in the first third of the 2016 season is really a worse-case scenario.
Offensive, I don’t have to tell you…he’s not good. Over the last three seasons, his swing rate has increased while his contact rate has declined.
|Year||Swing %||Contact %||Swinging Strike %|
Perhaps you could understand the Royals keeping Infante around if he could still make contact. But what I’m looking at above is akin to a starting pitcher who has lost about five mph off his fastball. An almost 8% decline in contact rate? Going back to 2008, his career contact rate is just above 84 percent. He provided that in 2014, but since then…not so much. Again, we’re looking at a player who is in a complete decline.
Infante is a sunk cost. The Royals can continue to hope they can squeeze some value out of their aging and injured second baseman, but as the tables above illustrate, that’s highly unlikely. These are not the old Royals in that they’re desperate to get something, anything, from a player. Despite the highs and lows of the current season, this team is very much in the thick of the pennant race. They need to be serious about their chances, which means they need to identify the players who can best advance their opportunity. Infante no longer fits on this team. It’s time for the Royals to move on.
I think the Royals will use the return of Eibner as an opportunity to finally cut ties with their sunk cost at second base. Clearly, Infante is not providing value nor is he improving to the point where you can even hope he can provide value. In fact, as we saw last week in Cleveland, his presence is costing the Royals games. Tangible losses, not an esoteric formula that says he’s worth so many wins fewer than an average player. His inability to hit and to field is a liability. The Royals realize this. They also realize that while Merrifield and Colon may not be long term solutions to the ongoing second base problem, they are, in the short term, better than anything they can hope to receive from Infante.