Omar Infante is signed for the upcoming 2013 for $4 million – a relative pittance – but he’ll be a free agent after the year ends, and the Detroit Tigers have few (or no) internal options to replace him.
Ramon Santiago will also be a free agent – assuming he survives this season with the Tigers – but he’s not going to be re-signed, especially not to be the everyday second baseman. Danny Worth could be the everyday second baseman in theory, but he’s not proven that he can hit enough to be more than a bench glove (if even that). Jeff Kobernus might be on the 25-man roster all season as a Rule 5 player, but he doesn’t have a track record as a good hitter at the AA level and below.
There are some possible everyday second base prospects in the Tigers’ system, but they were all in the lower levels of the minor leagues. Hernan Perez played two games in the big leagues last year, but he was really a Hi-A player last year (and a middling one, at that). Eugenio Suarez could be an everyday player in the future (whether it’s shortstop or second base), but it would take a couple of miracles for him to be major league ready in 2014 – more likely he’ll be in Double-A. And Harold Castro will be just 20 years old in 2014 and still a minimum of two years away from the show.
So the Tigers would be hard pressed to find an above replacement level option for 2014, and if someone like Danny Worth was above replacement level, he’d certainly still be below average. The Tigers will likely be preparing for another deep playoff run and won’t be the type of team that could stomach a below-average starter. That leaves Infante – or free agency (or a trade) – as the options. Trades open up a whole new can of worms, so I won’t get into that, but we have a pretty good idea of who the free agents will be. MLB Trade Rumors has the list:
Robinson Cano (31)
Alexi Casilla (29)
Mark Ellis (37) – $5.75MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Mike Fontenot (34)
Aaron Hill (32)
Omar Infante (32)
Nick Punto (36)
Omar Quintanilla (31)
Ryan Raburn (33)
Brian Roberts (36)
Ramon Santiago (34)
Skip Schumaker (34)
Chase Utley (35)
Ben Zobrist (33) – $7MM club option with a $2.5MM buyout
Robinson Cano would be great of course – though he’d cost a fortune (and a draft pick) to sign – and the Tampa Bay Rays will certainly pick up Ben Zobrist’s option. After those two, Infante looks like the best option.
Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference agree that Infante has been a 2.5 to 3.0 win player in each of the last three years. That type of production would be typically “worth” somewhere between $13 million and $15 million per season. The Tigers could try to extend him for two or three years to try to push the average annual value closer to $10 million, or they could look to present him with a qualifying one-year offer at the conclusion of this season. That offer – probably around $13.5 million – would probably more than the average rate of a multi-year deal, but they’d gain the future flexibility of it being only a one-year commitment. And if Infante were to reject the offer the Tigers would receive a compensation draft pick if he signed elsewhere.
The Tigers probably don’t want to commit too much money and too many years to a guy that would be heading into his age 32 season, but something like two years, $20 million would be a fair deal for the club while representing a 150% increase in Infante’s salary. Perhaps he’d go for something like that.
Obviously the Tigers would want to make sure he doesn’t fall off a cliff next season before committing to him for another couple of season – to say nothing of extending him a qualifying offer – but if he continues to produce at his 2010-2012 rates, they should have no qualms about doing so.