I’m not writing this to tell you how great Omar Infante is – and to opine on the critical importance of resigning Infante no matter the cost. If anything, it’s the opposite.
Infante is – if you don’t count Bronx megastars looking for megacontracts – quite possibly the only good second baseman on the open market this offseason. That probably means he’s not going to be short of suitors. It may mean a price tag, in terms of annual value and especially years that Infante might not be worth. While he has been valuable to the Tigers since they dealt for him in the middle of last season, he’s also going to be 32 when he reports for Spring Training – and at a position that puts a premium on agility.
Exactly how much is too much for Infante? Would you be willing to pay $40 million over 4 years for him? $36 for 3 years? While it would be great to repeat his previous 2-year, $8 million deal I cannot see anything of that nature happening particularly coming off what has arguably been the best offensive season of his career. Over the past 4 seasons, Infante has accumulated 10.3 fWAR. At the current best estimate of $5 million per “win” on the free agent market, that makes Infante roughly a $13 million a year player – just below that “qualifying offer” level.
But… Infante’s contributions have to be stated with some qualifications. His D has been a plus as have his legs – and the guy is on the wrong side of 30. It is highly unlikely that he’s going to be able to keep that sort of level of performance up for 3 or 4 years, maybe not even 1 or 2. If you look at those Fangraphs advanced metrics, those aspects of his game have already begun to slide: Infante was 3.2 runs worse on the basepaths than in 2012 and 7.3 runs worse in the field (according to UZR/150). The good output in 2013 was driven by BABIP (which is bad) and a lower strikeout rate (which is good). Infante also appears to lack whatever aspect of a man’s offensive game that enables him to produce in the clutch – with Win Probability Added numbers always significantly lower than his “leverage adjusted” WPA. He either doesn’t hit as well in the clutch OR the things that he always does just aren’t as beneficial when the game is on the line.
I’d be very cautious of assuming that Infante’s production over the past 4 years was actually worth $12 or $13 million per season. I’d also be very cautious of assuming that he’d be able to continue that level of production in 2014 and 2015 much less 2016 and 2017. I’d probably be content with a 2-year $16 million contract, but with no special expectation that he’d be able to meet or exceed that value. The second big question regarding Infante is “what other options do the Tigers have?” As far as free agents go, there are basically none. As far as in-house candidates go, there’s just Danny Worth and Hernan Perez – both of whom should be able to at least match Infante’s legs and glove but probably can’t approach his bat. If they don’t like those options, they’d be stuck looking for a trading partner – and that trade would have to mean dealing either a starting pitcher or Nick Castellanos, as they simply don’t have other valuable chips. The only guy that I can think of – off the top of my head – that they could try to swing a deal for (probably involving a cost you wouldn’t like) would be Howie Kendrick of the Angels. How much more than what he is worth (which I peg at $8 mil per annum) the Tigers are going to be willing to pay Infante is realistically going to come down to internal evaluations of Hernan Perez. There will be no shortage of fans that like the guy promoting him as the future, but in the limited time he saw in the bigs this year Perez put up a .197/.217/.227 batting line. Even if he had Iglesias’ glove – which he does not – they would have to expect significantly more than that (probably better than his .256/.297/.345 career minor league line too) to enter 2014 with Perez as the presumptive (going into camp) starting second baseman. Worth, I imagine, might be viewed as the 2014 replacement for Ramon Santiago but probably not as anything else (even assuming the foot injury that kept him away from the D this year is fully healed).