Omar Infante and the Qualifying Offer


June 23, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers second baseman Omar Infante (4) at bat against the Boston Red Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

I’m getting well ahead of myself with some offseason strategy discussion here – I’m well aware of that – but it’s an off-day and there was an interesting article on the topic written at FanGraphs so I’m going to roll with it.

The Detroit Tigers – after a long, long playoff run, mind you – will enter the offseason with a few questions surrounding the club. Will Nick Castellanos earn an everyday spot on the big league roster? Will the team decide to trade or extend Max Scherzer? What should they do at the back of the bullpen without Joaquin Benoit? But perhaps the most real and interesting question – mostly because I think a blockbuster Scherzer trade is unlikely at the present juncture – is what to do at the second base position.

Every other position on the diamond is spoken for. The outfield could remain the same, first base, third base, and DH are locked down, Jose Iglesias has arrived to fill the shortstop spot for a number of years, and Avila will again be the man behind the dish. Second base is the only position without the starter returning – incumbent Omar Infane will become a free agent at season’s end – and there isn’t a reliable backup that could simply slip into the role.

The Tigers have three options with Infante: (1) let him walk, (2) work out an extension, (3) make a ‘qualifying offer’ (set at roughly $14 million this offseason) and either get him back for another year or receive a compensation pick for their troubles.

Here’s (a portion of) what Dave Cameron had to say on FanGraphs about the Tigers’ upcoming decision on Infante (click on the link to see the whole thing):

"The Tigers are going to have to eventually start making some tough decisions, with extensions for Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera looming, but Infante is too good to lose without getting something back. Even if he takes the offer, $14 million for an above average second baseman with no long term risk is a good deal for Detroit.Conclusion: Make the offer."

As Cameron hints, money could be tricky for the Tigers as soon as this offseason. According to my back-of-the-napkin salary figures, their payroll heading into next season would equal that of this season before making a decision to bring back Infante. That is to say that, if they’re hoping to keep the band together for one final hurrah (let’s say Infante takes the qualifying offer), they’ll be staring a $165 million payroll square in the face (basically a 10% boost over this season). It may be the case that the additional TV money that will pour into the game will make this a non-issue for the team, but it may also be the case that their current payroll figures – with signings such as Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander – have already accounted for the boost in revenue.

I agree with Cameron that a qualifying offer makes sense in this case, but I don’t think it’s as much of a slam-dunk decision as it might otherwise be for the organization. Infante is the type of player that is hurt the most by the qualifying offer system. Given his age, and the fact that he’s having as good of a year as he’s ever had, he would probably like to hit the open market and find something in the three to four year range with an AAV around $10 million, but those offers aren’t likely to materialize if he has a compensation pick attached to his name.

The Tigers, though, would love to have Infante back without having to commit to him long-term. They don’t have any good options to replace him right now (you’d be looking at Danny Worth or a still clearly overmatched Hernan Perez), but in a year they might be willing to take a serious look at someone like Perez or Eugenio Suarez for the everyday job. This isn’t to say that Detroit wouldn’t like to work out an extension with Omar – I would think a maximum of two years and $20 million would be quite nice – but that’s probably not the type of deal he’s looking for. What they likely don’t want to do is commit many tens of millions to another aging player. If he’s not looking to be fairly vastly underpaid for two or (definitely not more than) three years, and the team can stomach the one year qualifying deal, then they absolutely need to make him the qualifying offer. If worst comes to worst they could look to trade him if and when he accepts. Major League Baseball would probably look to block such trades if they were made in a collusion-y fashion, but an offer in earnest followed by shopping the player around doesn’t look to be against the rules. They could likely find a taker who would offer a modest return.

In the end, however, it might all depend on how this season plays out. I could see them going “all in” again if they’re still chasing that elusive ring, but, if they do happen to win it all this October, I could see (understand, and support) the club getting out of the ultra-spend-happy mode they’ve been in for a few years now.