Omar is back, due to the incumbent ineptitude of the Bengals second-sackers considerably more than his aptitude at the position. We studied other aspects of the trade that returned Infante to the organization that drafted him here and here, but what did we miss in the 5 seasons he was gone, and will Infante solidify the middle sufficiently?
You may be surprised to hear that Omar turned 31 the day after Christmas – it was 11 long years ago that he got a cup of coffee with the abysmal ’02 Tigers skippered by the forgettable Luis Pujols. (Chris Truby was the starting 3B, and somebody named George Lombard logged 270 PA’s for this team. Worse yet, Lombard was intentionally walked once – I can only hope this was in an interleague game.) Infante represented himself well, with a .333 BA, 3 2B and a HR in 72 AB’s.
He spent most of the next five seasons as a utility man – although he did start 97 games at 2B in 2004 – and while he had his moments, after the 2007 season Dave Dombrowski had no choice but to deal him when the inimitable Jacque Jones became available. He was quickly flipped from the Cubs to the Braves, and in Atlanta his talents flourished.
Omar played in 98 games for the Braves in ’08, split evenly between the infield and outfield, and put up a respectable .293/.338/.416 line, then followed that up with a .305 avg. in an injury-abbreviated ’09. His breakout campaign was 2010 – .321 avg., .775 OPS, and an All-Star game appearance while starting games at 2B, SS, 3B, LF, CF and RF.
Worth more than a Jacquestrap at this point, the Braves parlayed Omar and Mike Dunn into slugger Dan Uggla. Infante settled into a role of full-time second baseman in Florida, posting career-typical numbers through 2011 and the first half of 2012 – .275 BA, .712 OPS. The move to 2nd solidified his glovework, with 12 Defensive Runs Saved in 2011 (which he followed up with 6 DRS is 2012, despite a spate of unconscionable errors immediately after the trade to Detroit.)
Compared to the scorching September and spectacular postseason performance of Marco Scutaro, Infante looked pretty pedestrian; statistically, however, they are quite similar, and Scutaro is six years older. Even with hindsight glasses on, it’s hard to be critical of the trade on that basis.
I spent some time pondering the possibility of the Tigers pursuing a different 2B, which would allow Infante to return to his super-sub role. In that case he could be the right-handed portion of the LF platoon, while rendering obsolete the Kelly/Santiago/Worth battle for the end of the bench. In San Fran, Scutaro displaced a pair of potential pivot men – Ryan Theriot and Freddy Sanchez. Theriot would bring some basestealing ability and a better OBP, but likely can’t pick it quite as well as Omar. “Fragile Freddy” is an accomplished batsman, unfortunately he has just averaged 87 games a season over his 10-year career. Other than strengthening the bench, neither would be a significant upgrade.
Slotted into the 9th spot in the order, Infante needs only put up his career average .275, 10 HR, 10 SB season to be a plus offensively. Combined with the supposedly slimmed-down Jhonny Peralta, those 7-hoppers over the mound should be more often converted into an out or two. Doug Fister thanks you in advance.
Unless Mr. Ilitch decides to convert 30 million $5 pizzas into Robinson Cano, Omar will likely be keeping the seat warm for Hernan Perez or Dixon Machado. At this point, I see no reason to complain about that.