Thanks to an assist from former New York Yankee Robinson Cano, who raised the market value of second basemen to somewhere near Mars, Omar Infante is soon to become a wealthy man. Barring an unexpected physical snag, the steady-playing Venezuelan will sign a four-year, $30 million deal with the Kansas City Royals. This isn’t to say Infante doesn’t deserve this reward, but the issues surrounding this news is both interesting and ironic.
When Cano was unveiled as the Seattle Mariners $240 million man, his former employers eyed Omar Infante, the ex-Detroit Tiger, as the heir apparent to the Dominican super star. The Yankees were faced with the task of replacing an icon, which put Infante in the driver’s seat as the highest ranked free agent at his position. Infante initially set his price tag at four years and $40 million, which would have been a bit high had Cano not raised the bar. By comparison, Marco Scutaro of the San Francisco Giants was previously the highest paid Latino second baseman at six years and $18 million. I understand that Dan Uggla, Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick have been higher earners in the past, but those were all silly deals that have only hurt their respective teams. In my view, the only “gringos” who deserve to earn more than $10 million a season are Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler, who will be Infante’s replacement in Detroit at the ridiculous tune of $16 million.
Anyway, the Yankees countered Infante’s demands with a three-year, $24 million offer. That’s when Omar’s agent, Gene Mato, went to Kansas City and negotiated an extra year and a $30 million package. With contract incentives, the 12 year veteran could earn considerably more, although falling short of his original target price.
Last year in Detroit, Infante played extremely well, batting .318 (Cano hit .314) with 10 home runs and 51 RBI, despite missing almost a month with a gimpy ankle. He was also the third toughest player to strike out in the American League, and his numbers were second only to his career season in 2010 with the Atlanta Braves. But do those type of statistics make Infante worth twice what he made with the Tigers, even though the market justifies it?
The downside of this deal is Infante will be 32 years old the day after Christmas, suggesting that the Royals will be paying for a player on the downside of his prime. Due to his injury, Infante played in only 118 games last season, and there’s no assurance that he will stay healthy.
While Infante is considered to be a player with pop in his bat, he has gone yard only 75 times in his entire career. Although he is a smart base runner, Infante is no speed demon like many middle infielders. And while considered a solid defender, Infante has never won a Gold Glove. Is mediocrity worth $8 million a year?
Look, Omar Infante is a good guy and I’m happy for him. There’s nothing controversial about him. He’s a quiet family man who has been married to his lovely wife for 10 years, and the couple have a handsome, four-year-old son. On the field, Infante leads by example and carries the reputation of respect . He will serve as a great mentor for the Royals Hispanic players, like Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez, both who are countrymen.
I guess when you put things into perspective, I can’t blame the Royals for paying a bit more for a solid citizen like Omar Infante. The organization has invested in a model of consistency who will make everyone around him better. It also frees up another newcomer, Emilio Bonificio, to play a more versatile role in the lineup and off the bench.
This is also the best scenario for Omar Infante. There’s little doubt that he would have had a tough time filling the shoes of Cano. Why would a player want to play in a Bronx fish bowl with fans who can be brutal, when the alternative is to make more money in the secure environment of America’s Heartland?
The only real loser in these developments are the New York Yankees, and it all started with Robbie Cano taking his talents to the great Northwest.