Tuesday afternoon, the Royals announced they have requested release waivers for veteran infielder Omar Infante. He'll become a free agent Thursday. The team designated him for assignment last Wednesday.
Infante, 34, is still owed approximately $14.5 million through the end of next season. Once he's released, any team can sign him for a pro-rated portion of the league minimum. Kansas City is on the hook for the rest. Infante hit .239/.279/.321 (60 OPS+) in 39 games before being released.
It's been a while since Infante was even an average MLB player -- he's hit .238/.269/.328 (63 OPS+) from 2014-16 -- but he offers some versatility and is a veteran presence. Those guys tend to stick around. Here are four things to know about Infante and his impending unemployment.
1. Infante is still fourth among second basemen in the AL All-Star voting.
Earlier on Tuesday MLB announced the latest AL All-Star fan voting update. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is in line to start at second base and deservedly so. Infante, however, is still fourth in the voting:
Royals fans have been stuffing the ballot for a few years now and there's not a single thing wrong with that. More power to 'em. It just makes situations like this a little weird.
Side note: There should definitely be a campaign to get Infante to the All-Star Game now.
2. Infante had a career year at exactly the right time.
This is already Infante's 15th season in the big leagues. He's had a long and productive career, one that includes an All-Star Game selection (2010) and a World Series ring (2015), among other things. Many, many, many players would love to have Infante's career.
The best season of Infante's career came in 2013, the year before he hit free agency for the very first time. (He opted for the security of multiyear extensions prior to that.) During that 2013 season Infante hit .318/.345/.450 for the Tigers and set a new career-high with a 115 OPS+. He proved himself to be a productive everyday player.
During that 2013-14 offseason, Infante was the second best free agent second baseman available behind Robinson Cano. Cano was in another stratosphere as an elite player, and his contract reflected that. All the teams that couldn't afford Cano turned their attention to Infante, and the ensuing bidding war landed him a four-year, $30.25 million deal with the Royals. Good timing for a career year, I'd say.3. It's not a good sign that the Royals released him.
Had any other team released Infante, I'm pretty sure I would have considered the Royals a candidate to sign him given their infield depth issues with Mike Moustakas hurt. The fact Kansas City decided Infante is not worth a roster spot even with Moustakas out for the rest of the season is not a good sign at all. That means there was no trade interest and the team truly had no more use for him.
At this point Infante doesn't do much more than make contact. He rarely strikes out and putting the ball in play is a good thing, but he lacks punch. Infante had a stellar 13.6 percent strikeout rate from 2014-16, 34th lowest among the 188 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances. His 19.9 percent weak contact rate was 39th highest among those 188 players though. So Infante put the ball in play, but he rarely did damage.
Furthermore, Infante's versatility is be a thing of the past. Aside from 27 innings at third base in 2012, he's been a full-time second baseman since 2011. Infante's days of playing shortstop and the outfield as well as second and third bases are pretty much over. That's going to work against him too. No offense and limited flexibility is a bad combination.
4. Someone will sign Infante, but he might have to settle for a minor league deal.
My guess is some team will indeed sign Infante because, after all, second base depth is hard to find. He may have to settle for a minor league contract though. Infante could wind up spending a few weeks in Triple-A showing teams he still has something left to offer. Some possible candidates to sign him:
- New York Mets: David Wright is out long-term following neck surgery and Infante would provide some infield depth.
- Atlanta Braves: Infante played for Atlanta from 2008-10 and they could offer him their starting second base job since Jace Peterson has struggled.
- San Francisco Giants: Matt Duffy just landed on the DL with an Achilles injury, creating an opening at third base.
It's not a long list of teams, obviously. That's why I think Infante may have to go to Triple-A and wait for a job to open through an injury or a trade, something like that. These days teams are much more willing to go with their own young player, even if he's not a top prospect, instead of hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with a veteran nearing the end of the line like Infante.