Arguably the best value name on that market has been taken off by the KC Royals: Omar Infante.
I touched on Infante in part 1 of my 2 part series on the 2b market (part 2 coming soon) without giving much thought to him since I figured the Yankees would sign him at 4 years $40M+. As I mentioned then, Infante is coming off 2 seasons of about 3.0 WAR, and had two years of abotu 2.0 WAR before that. Yes, he’ll be 32 this year, but he’s also coming off the best year of his career at age 31.
His skill-set is one that should age pretty well. He doesn’t rely on speed or power for success. He’s just good at making contact and avoiding strikeouts (less than 10% K% in 2013, which is kinda elite), and is about average at everything else. I don’t expect him to fall off a cliff anytime soon.
I don’t think we can expect Infante to repeat his career-best numbers of 2013, his .318/.345/.450 slash line. His BABIP was .333, well above what’s normal for him, so we can definitely expect some regression. Though, to be fair, he did hit more line drives this year (23.6%) than he normally does (career LD% 21.5%), so his spike in BABIP can be attributed at least partly to skill rather than luck. If his BABIP returns closer to his career .310 mark (or even falls a bit below it), we can likely take 20-30 points off his batting average and OBP. His power numbers this year (ISO of .132- a better measure of power than number of HRs) was slightly below the league average, but consistent with where Infante has been through his career. It may drop a bit this season, but shouldn’t drop much.
With this in mind, the Steamer projection for Infante’s 2014, which has him hitting .288/.325/.407 I think is pretty reasonable. That would give him a wRC+ of 101, making him a league-average hitter, which is about where I think his true talent level is right now. That’s pretty alright for a second baseman with pretty good defense. Steamer projection gives him 2.2 fWAR for 2014. A drop from the 3.0 WAR he’s averaged over the past two years, but not a huge drop.
A player like Infante should be counted on for 2-3 WAR next year, and at least 1-2 WAR, if not better, for the next 2-3 years after that. In other words, I’d expect him to continue to be a slightly above average player next year, and then an average to slightly below average player for the next 2-3 years after that.
The common estimation of WAR value over the past few years has been $5-$6M for 1 WAR. A player of Infante’s ilk is worth, based on this estimation, $10-$15M next year, and then $5-10M over the next 2-3 years. He will easily be worth the $30M he’s getting over the next 4 years, and that’s something that doesn’t happen too often with free agents. Especially since the value of 1 WAR is likely to go up to around $7M in the next year or two.
Good on the Royals for making a rare smart move. I’m not sure what AA has up his sleeve for the Jays 2b situation, and there is still a lot of offseason left, but I can’t help but think that come March we’ll be left looking back at this deal and wishing the Jays had offered 4 years $32-$35M to land Infante. Especially since his deal could be backloaded and thus only cost the Jays $5-7M for 2014, it’s hard to imagine a better solution at 2b for less or the same money as that. I hope I’m wrong…