The inevitable happened. The Royals finally parted ways with Omar Infante, designating him for assignment this afternoon.
The writing has been on the wall for a while now.
Infante had seen a drastic decline in his playing time of late, as his last start and at bat came June 2, where he cost the Royals at least one run with a brutal defensive game that ended up as a blown lead in the ninth, and the first loss of an 8-game losing streak. After maintaining a batting average of .300 for the first two weeks of the season, all hopes that Infante, after dealing with health issues in each of the two previous years, was finally healthy and could have a bounce back year, slowly fizzled as reverted back to the 2015 version of himself, hitting just .211 (19-90) since (April 16), leading to the veteran second baseman losing his grip on a starting role, eventually giving way to Whit Merrifield. Now, when Merrifield plays left field against left-handed pitching, or like he is tonight, Christian Colon plays second. This happened in all three weekend games at Chicago – when Infante could have easily played at least once. It raised the question: why is he even on the roster anymore?
I believe the Royals were likely trying to attract a trade suitor, even if it meant they could save just one dollar on Infante, but with his production (.239/.279/.321), that seemed very unlikely and the Royals finally accepted Infante’s contract as a sunk cost – something they do not do often. On the books at the pro-rated portion of $7.8 million for the rest of this season and at $8 million in 2017 (plus a $2 million buyout for a 2018 team option), he is still owed more than $14M.
It had to be a tough decision for Dayton Moore and the Royals, and certainly something they likely wouldn’t have done even 3-4 years ago. But, now, its winning time and this is something big boy teams do when the window is open.
Infante, who has 10 days to be traded, or he will hit the open market as a free agent, could draw the interest of someone, who will then be able to pay him a pro-rated league minimum salary, but I’m not sure he could even pass a physical at this point. Dude can barely throw the ball, and if you’ve paid close attention this year, he’s often skipped when the team rounds the horn, to save him a throw.
Signed by the Royals on December 16, 2013 to hopefully shore up the second base position that has long-plagued the franchise after they had finally parted ways, long after they should have, with Chris Getz two weeks prior. In that 2013 season, the Royals released fan-favorite Jeff Francouer. It was James Shields’ first season as a Royal, and he was paired with Ervin Santana at the front end of the rotation. It was the mark of a change in ways for the Royals franchise, and the releases of Frenchie and Getz following the trades for Shields and Santana in the previous offseason signified it, followed by the free-agent signings of Infante and Jason Vargas, both to 4-year contracts, which were both bad contracts, not necessarily because of the money, but the length, as the Royals had to give each dude an extra year to come here. That’s a price the Royals would not have to pay, now.
Vargas, very much a younger version of Bruce Chen, missed most of last season with two different injuries and all of this season, after his elbow exploded.
Still with a year remaining on his contract, Vargas has started just 39 games and tossed just 230 innings in three seasons. As I’ve contended, and as Conrad said at the time, Vargas has a bad contract. But, that’s a story for another day.
Infante came to the Royals following the second best year of his career, slashing .318/.345/.450 with 10 HR and 51 RBI for the Tigers. It was the first season of his career he was a regular at just one position, and the Royals were paying him a lot of money to do the same, here.
Infante paid dividends early on, and despite missing 19 games, he was still second on the team in RBI (40) at the halfway mark of the season, and led the team in hitting with RISP. Hitting .251 at the time, it was well below his career norms at the time (.278/.317/.400), but he was still pacing out for a 10 HR, 80 RBI, 14 2B, 6 3B season and was one of the hardest players in the league to strikeout (17 BB/31 K). At that time, it looked like it was a solid pick-up for the Royals, even though we said at the time of his pickup was bad because of the contract, and the Royals very well could have went with Johnny Giavotella for about 15% of the price. Someone in the organization didn’t like Gio, and he never really got a REAL chance at the position.
Since Game 82 of the 2014 season, Infante has spiraled into the depths of the worst players in the league, with a .236/.263/.319 line and 3 HR and 82 RBI in 864 AB, with 129 strikeouts and 37 walks. According to Fan Graphs, since the start of last season, Infante is the WORST offensive player in all of baseball, for qualified player, hitting .225/.249/.319 with 2 HR, 55 RBI – just .201.229/.266 at home (A .266 SLUG…WOW) – with 92 K and just 18 walks.
Infante only hit .239/.302/.370 in the 2014 postseason, but homered in the World Series.
“I don’t know if we make it to the (2014) World Series without him. He helped us big time,” manager Ned Yost said today.
Infante was left off the postseason roster in 2015 as he nursed an injury, not playing again after September 18, one game after a 7-RBI night in Cleveland – his most memorable game as a Royal.
As mentioned earlier, the Royals are going to go with the red-hot rookie Merrifield (.330/.343/.505) MOST of the time at second base, with Christian Colon getting some playing time, as well.
Merrifield, now hitting leadoff, has hit in 20 of his 23 starts and has 10 multi-hit games, including a tied-for-franchise rookie record 5-straight game (May 23-28).
Colon, who like Giavotella before him, has never really been given a chance at the second base job. But, unlike Gio as a Royal (.238/.277/.334), Colon has actually hit when he has been here, posting a career .300/.358/.367 in 83 games and 207 AB, and has a track record of hitting in the minors (.291 AVG). He still won’t play regularly, but tonight he is starting for the fourth time in six games, and he has produced, albeit with little pop, as a big leaguer.
We all liked Omar, but he has been bad for the majority of his time in Kansas City, and his bad contract is even worse now, as the Royals won’t even get anything out of him for the last 1.5 years of the deal.
“At the end of the day, if we’re going to play Merrifield and play Colon at second base, and we have some other options, it’s not fair to Omar and it’s not fair to the other 24 players on the roster, it’s not fair to Ned and the coaching staff and it’s not fair to the fans,” Moore said. “Ultimately, I’m responsible for those decisions.”
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