Your 2014 Royals, Now With a Second Baseman by Jeff Sullivan December 13, 2013 In a sense, the Yankees are back to being the Yankees. They offered a ton of money to sign Brian McCann. They offered a ton of money to sign Jacoby Ellsbury. There’s still talk they might offer a ton of money to try to sign Masahiro Tanaka. Yet the Yankees are still a team in need of an actual regular second baseman. They’ve reached this point because they were outbid on their own Robinson Cano by the Mariners, and now they’ve been outbid on Omar Infante by the Royals, who have a shiny new second baseman at a four-year commitment worth a little over $30 million. You could say that there’s a revenge angle, since earlier in the offseason the Yankees signed Carlos Beltran with the Royals hot in pursuit. But this is less about vengeance and more about plugging an immediate hole, with a perfectly adequate player. Used to be I thought it was all but a given that the Royals would trade Billy Butler for Nick Franklin. Now they need their own DH, and they have their own second baseman. It’s a step forward for a team that would really really like to experience this year’s playoffs. A thing about players in or near the bigs is that, if you squint, all of them can look like they’re pretty good. A few years ago, Emilio Bonifacio put up a .360 OBP, and he’s not an old player. He can still make a lot happen, and he was productive for the Royals down the stretch. Johnny Giavotella, meanwhile, has been good in Triple-A, and his big-league opportunity has been limited over three seasons. Had the Royals gone into the 2014 season with those two as options at second, there would’ve been some reason for hope. With Infante, though, there’s no need for squinting. He’s coming off a WAR over 3. Before that was a WAR close to 3. Before that was a pair of WARs over 2. He’s been a roughly average hitter playing a solid second base, and he’s still in his low 30s. It’s obvious that Infante is fine. He should be counted on to be fine, at least for a year or two. He’s almost boring in his adequacy. This is the Royals’ second four-year contract of the offseason, and both those deals are pretty similar. Infante’s getting four years and a bit over $30 million, while Jason Vargas is getting four years and $32 million. Both of them are getting paid to be average, and both of them have been more or less average for some time now. In some ways, Infante is just an infield, position-player version of Vargas. Infante’s good at making contact, and Vargas is good at throwing his changeup, but neither player ever really wows you. They just do something along the lines of what they’re supposed to do, and when games are finished, you reflect and think “yeah that guy’s been all right.” There’s an argument to be made that Infante’s a little better, but Vargas is younger and we needn’t concern ourselves with all the little details. Four years is a long commitment, yeah. The Royals are trying to win soon, and Infante’s starting this contract at league average or above. He’ll probably be worse by the end, but he should still have his uses, and for 2014 this should be a real good deal. Remember, given the Royals’ expected position on the win curve, help is extremely valuable to them. And because they’re financially limited, they need to get guys below standard free-agent prices. It shouldn’t be too hard for Infante to be worth this money, and that should be especially true in 2014-2015. And he’s not going to cost the team a draft pick. Brandon Phillips is still out there as an available second baseman. The Reds aren’t getting too many bites, and Phillips is locked up for four years and $50 million. He’s six months older than Infante is, and Phillips is projected for between two and three wins, while Infante is projected almost exactly the same. Phillips projects for a 99 wRC+. Infante projects for a 101 wRC+. They’re both good in the field and fine on the bases. If Phillips’ market value is at least somewhere close to that $50 million, then Infante looks like a bargain at $20 million less. He’s had the lower career peak, but older players shouldn’t be evaluated by peaks. And while Phillips’ WAR topped out in 2011, Infante’s topped out just this past year. While I’m here, actually, a thing. While I acknowledge that all situations are different, and all players are different, and projection systems are imperfect, consider these bullet points, with Steamer projections for 2014: Omar Infante, 2.2 WAR, 32 years old, $30.25 million/4 years, no qualifying offer Carlos Beltran, 1.8 WAR, 36 years old, $45 million/3 years, qualifying offer Curtis Granderson, 2.0 WAR, 32 years old, $60 million/4 years, qualifying offer The Royals might be better off for having missed out in the Beltran sweepstakes. I don’t want to sound like I’m making the case that Infante is the bargain of the winter, but there have been far more questionable deals. The Royals tried to give one to a former Royal. Now, instead, they have a pretty neat second baseman getting paid Scott Feldman money except spread over one extra year. As free agency goes, it’s a fine investment. Good for the Royals’ front office. The team’s better now, right away, and it didn’t have to overpay to accomplish that. That’s something, considering the needy Yankees were the competition.