Omar Infante is a dependable baseball player who makes the Royals better. This is good.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
He fits a need both on the field and in the clubhouse. This is encouraging.
He strengthens the Royals not only with his own talents, but by allowing the team to carry Emilio Bonifacio as a sort of super utility player (which he’s more qualified to do than play every day at second base) and provide more depth (and a better option if Mike Moustakas and/or Alcides Escobar are as bad in 2014 as they were 2013).
In the micro, those are the most important parts of the Royals’ reported agreement with Infante on a four-year, $30 million contract to be their regular second baseman.
This will likely be the Royals’ final major acquisition this offseason, and these are the aspects of this move that should remain the primary focus as the team enters a critical point in what will be Dayton Moore’s seventh full season as general manager.
But in the macro, there’s also something important at work here.
And, well, this is as popular in Kansas City as turning a barbecue joint into a vegan spot, but … David Glass deserves some recognition as well.
Not a parade, and not his name on a bridge. The in-a-way-signing-Infante- feels-like-we’ve-won-the-World-Series jokes are too easy, and you can already picture some inside the organization overstating a bump in payroll that should put the Royals above $90 million for the first time.
The apologists inside the organization who believe Glass has always been unfairly treated by fans and media will be wrong to try to spin another franchise-record payroll into a noble crusade by Glass to lose money in order to win games.
But the one-note haters among the fan base and media who still haven’t recognized a stark shift in Glass’ ownership since 2006 should finally wake up.
Glass is operating the way a solid, standard, relatively small-money owner should operate in a baseball world that shares more money than ever before but still gives a major advantage to bigger markets. And he has been for the last seven years, when he hired the best GM candidate in the game, provided every resource promised to build a strong farm system, and otherwise stayed out of the way.
Glass sent a subtle but important message when he extended Moore’s contact for just two years, and he’s sending another one now.
The jackpot offseason would’ve included the Royals out-bidding the Yankees for Carlos Beltran, and then finding a trade partner to turn Billy Butler into something that better fit with the rest of the roster.
Specifically, that would’ve improved the Royals’ speed and base running and allowed them to use the DH spot in a bit of a rotation to keep Beltran, Sal Perez and others fresh while not missing their bats in the lineup.
Short of that, considering the realistic options, the Royals have done OK in covering for the loss of the electric but unreliable Ervin Santana with the boring but dependable Jason Vargas (though they really need an in-house candidate to step up), and they have now done well in filling the two biggest needs for an offense that should’ve been better last year.
Infante will turn 32 this month and has a track record of providing solid if unspectacular offense and defense. A projection on FanGraphs and a conversation with a scout earlier in the week suggests Infante should maintain productivity throughout the contract, though it would be better as a three-year contract than four (the Royals went to four to get the deal done).
The Royals were desperate for help at second base and right field, and have now addressed both needs (after the trade for Norichika Aoki last week).
The hidden benefit here is the Royals now have some important flexibility, depth and insurance.
Moustakas and Escobar were incompetent offensively last season. The Royals hope those results are aberrations, but with Infante at second base, Bonifacio is a significant upgrade to the team’s alternatives if either player continues to fail at the plate.
Signing Beltran or a big-name pitcher would’ve been nice, even as the risks would’ve greatly increased.
Still, this current push by the Royals — it’s a low bar, sure, but it’s the franchise’s best position in two decades — was always going to succeed or fail on the backs of homegrown players like Butler, Perez, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura.
The Royals’ two major offseason acquisitions are a nod to that reality.
Vargas’ dependability means a stable environment for Duffy and eventually Ventura and Kyle Zimmer to build their careers.
And Infante’s presence gives the Royals some cover if two important players continue to struggle, while also improving the lineup in front of Hosmer, Butler and Gordon.
A key part of all of this is Glass’ willingness to continue a clear and positive change since 2006, operating like a solid and relatively small-money owner should be expected to operate.
His apologists will almost certainly overstate Glass’ commitment.
But it wouldn’t kill the one-note haters to at least recognize he’s not the miserly problem he was before 2006, either.