The Yankees came into the offseason needing an everyday caliber infielder, and that need still exists after Robinson Cano took a ten-year contract from the Mariners last week. Kelly Johnson is a solid role player but probably not someone the team wants to earmark for 600+ plate appearances next season, though his versatility allows them to search for a second or third baseman. They have some flexibility when it comes to adding that infielder.
One of the best infielders still available on the open market is former Tigers second baseman Omar Infante, whom the Yankees contacted within the first few days of free agency. Jon Morosi recently reported the club even made Infante an offer a few weeks ago. I assume that was just a first offer and they plan to get a little more serious now that Cano is bolting for Seattle. Chances are Infante and his agent will bump up their price a little bit knowing New York just lost their franchise player. Can’t blame them.
Infante, who will turn 32 in a little more than two weeks, definitely fills a need for the Yankees, at least on paper. How good of a fit is he for the roster? That’s another question. Let’s dig in.
- Infante is a pure contact hitter from the right side. He hit .318 (.333 BAIP) with a 9.2% strikeout rate and an 84.5% contact rate this past season and .288 (.306 BABIP) with a 10.3% strikeout rate and an 86.7% contact rate over the last three years. That the 14th lowest strikeout rate and 33rd highest contact rate among 226 qualified hitters since 2011. He’s a classic all-fields hitter.
- Infante didn’t have much of a platoon split this past season, hitting .326 with a 113 wRC+ against righties and .301 with a 124 wRC+ against lefties. The split is a bit more pronounced over the last three years but not enough to make him a straight platoon player: .283 average with a 90 wRC+ against righties and a .298 average with a 118 wRC+.
- Although he was a utility man earlier in his career, Infante has settled in at second base over the last three years. The various metrics — +18 UZR, +5 DRS, +9 FRAA, and +29 Total Zone — say he’s been anywhere from slightly above-average to outstanding there. Infante also has a bunch of experience at third, short, and all three outfield positions.
- Infante isn’t a burner but he is an asset on the bases. He has gone 26-for-33 (79%) in stolen base attempts over the last three years while taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) a very good 49% of the time. The league average is around 40%.
- The Tigers did not tender Infante a qualifying offer so teams will not have to forfeit a draft pick to sign him.
- Outside of hitting for contact, Infante doesn’t provide much else with the bat. He hit 30 doubles and 12 homers (.144 ISO) last year and 24 doubles with ten homers (.132 ISO) this year, so the extra base hits are few and far between. As the batted ball distance plot shows, he simply doesn’t hit the ball very far. Yankee Stadium doesn’t figure to boost his power output all that much.
- Infante doesn’t walk, like at all. He drew a walk in 4.2% of plate appearances this year and 4.4% from 2011-2013, both well-below-average. Basically half the league average. Because he puts the ball in play so easily, he rarely works deep counts and has averaged only 3.40 pitches per plate appearances over the last three years.
- Injuries have been a problem throughout his career, specifically hand injuries. Infante missed a little more than a month with a left wrist sprain this year and two weeks with a broken finger in 2011. He had surgery to repair a broken bone in his left hand in both 2008 and 2009, and also had a sports hernia repaired during the 2010-2011 offseason.
- If you are concerned about such things, Infante has stunk (62 wRC+) in his limited postseason action (30 games and 119 plate appearances). He has played for contending teams in Atlanta and Detroit, so that won’t be a new experience.
Infante had the best offseason season of his career in 2013 (.318/.345/.450, 117 wRC+) and it came at a good time, right before free agency. From 2011-2012, he hit .275/.308/.400 (90 wRC+) in over 1,200 plate appearances. If he hits like he did this year, Infante is an above-average player thanks to his defense. If he hits like he did from 2011-2012, he’s average at best. Jon Heyman says the Royals are among the other clubs trying to land him, so the Yankees have competition.
A contract in line with Marco Scutaro’s three-year, $20M pact with the Giants would seem appropriate, but the market is crazy and Infante could wind up with three years and closer to $30M instead. That strikes me as pretty pricey for a guy with one above-average offensive season in the last three years and just two in his ten full seasons. His versatility is more reputation than reality at this point as well — it’s been fours years since he last played more than 30 innings at any position other than second — so I’m not sure how flexible he really is. Infante might be the best option at second base, but he also might be a guy who disappoints because he had his best season with the bat at just the right time.