The Royals officially cut their losses with second baseman Omar Infante on Wednesday, designating him for assignment to clear room on the roster for left-handed pitcher Brian Flynn.
The move results in a significant amount of dead money for the Royals. Infante is still owed roughly 60 percent of his $7.75 million contract this season, which comes out to about $4.7 million. The Royals also are on the hook for $8 million next season and a $2 million buyout in 2018, meaning they still owe him about $14.7 million — an amount that is nearly half of the original four-year, $30.25 million free-agent deal signed in the 2013 offseason.
“It’s a mistake you don’t like to make,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “You don’t like to spend money unnecessarily. You make these types of commitments, and sometimes they don’t work out. You are paid and evaluated so they will work out.”
Infante’s struggles were well documented. In 39 games this season, he batted .239 with a .279 on-base percentage while offering little power and diminished defensive abilities. His most notable mistake came against Cleveland on June 2, as a poor throw on a double-play attempt helped the Indians rally for a 5-4 victory, which snapped a six-game Royals winning streak.
Infante had not started any of the 11 games since.
“He’s played 15 years in the league. He’s been around a long time,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “His range just kind of decreased. His arm strength just kind of decreased. With the emergence of (Whit) Merrifield and (Christian) Colon doing a good job, they were just better options for us right now.”
Both Yost and Moore were quick to point out Infante’s contributions over the last 2 1/2 seasons. Moore believes Infante had a positive influence on shortstop Alcides Escobar. Yost said the team likely wouldn’t have made back-to-back World Series appearances without Infante’s production.
“He’s always been phenomenal in the clubhouse. He’s always been a leader in there in terms of our Latin players,” Yost said. “He was a big addition to our team.”
Colon, whose locker is next to Infante’s, described him as a “class act.”
“We’ve talked a lot about defense. We’ve talked a lot about life. He took me under his wing,” Colon said. “It’s a sad day, a sad day for sure, because he’s part of us.”
Infante was originally part of a 2013 Royals free-agent class that included pitcher Jason Vargas and the re-signing of Bruce Chen. He had offers from the Yankees, among others, but chose Kansas City because it was the only team that offered him a four-year deal, and also because he figured the Royals were on the rise.
“They’ve got a great energy to play,” Infante said on the day he signed in December 2013, later adding: “I think we’ll have a great team to win. We’ve got a great team to (advance) to the postseason.”
Infante played 135 games at second base in 2014 and also added a home run in the Royals’ 7-2 victory in Game 2 of the World Series. Last year, while battling elbow issues, he played 124 games and was a reserve late in the year following the team’s trade for Ben Zobrist.
The decision clears a full-time spot for Merrifield, who hit .326 in his first 23 games with the Royals while also displaying above-average range at second base. Yost also planned to rotate Colon in at second to keep him fresh.
“We felt like we had that spot covered well, and we needed another pitcher up here,” Yost said. “It was just a logical move for us right now.”
In the end, Moore said it wasn’t fair to Infante, the team or the coaching staff for the Royals to keep him on the team without playing him.
“It just didn’t turn out the way we ultimately felt it would,” Moore said.