Monday, December 16, 2013

Thoughts on the Omar Infante deal

Last Friday, Omar Infante and the Kansas City Royals agreed to a four year, $30 million contract.  Omar Infante will be plugged into second base in 2014, moving Emilio Bonifacio into a utility role and moving Johnny Giavotella and Christian Colon to depth pieces who could move from AAA to the majors throughout the year depending on injuries/ needs.  I already went over in a previous post that I felt the Royals were best suited using free agency or trade to find a starting second baseman in 2014, as opposed to working from within the organization. 

I also stated in said post that I felt Omar Infante was going to be too pricy for the Royals, as the Yankees seemed to be a perfect fit after losing Robinson Cano to Seattle.  In fact, at that time is looked much more likely we would be seeing Beltran with the Royals and Infante in New York, not the reserve.  And boy it looks like things may have worked out for the Royals.  Carlos Beltran costs $15 million more for one less year of team control, while also costing the Yankees a draft pick in next year’s amateur draft, something that was not tied to signing Infante since he did not receive a qualifying offer from the Tigers.  
A comparable player to Omar Infante is Brandon Phillips, who still has 4 yrs/ $50 million dollars left on his contract that the Reds would happily get rid of.  When I say comparable, I mean they are within six months in age (with Infante being the younger 32 year old entering next year) while posting comparable fWAR over the last two years. 

That being said, Phillips has been worth almost twice as much fWAR over the course of his career, but I agree with the idea that it is unwise to evaluate players based on their peak, and instead based on present projections.  Phillips clearly has peaked and has been regressing each of the past two seasons after a very good 2011, and is still an elite defender.  Infante is on the wrong side of the aging curve, but had arguably his best season of his career in 2013.  Both are projected to earn about 2.5 WAR next season, as projection systems will (and should) expect regression moving forward. 
So if we agree that these two are more or less similarly useful players, then it is not hard to argue that Infante at 4/30 is a nice deal relative to a ‘bad’ contract.  But how should we evaluate the Infante deal in and of itself?  I will take very loose math that Fangraphs will sometimes use to quickly look at a player’s contract based on value of win and expected regression.  In this model they value a win in the present market to be worth roughly $6.5mil/WAR, with a player regressing .5 WAR per year. 
2014: 2.5 WAR
2015: 2.0 WAR
2016: 1.5 WAR
2017: 1.0 WAR
Total: 7.0 WAR
7 WAR is ‘worth’ 45 million dollars, so by this thought process the Royals may have gotten Infante at quite a bargain.  Even towards the end of his contract he could be above replacement level, and won’t be worth so much money that even in a Bonifacio like role in 2017 he could easily continue to provide value relative to his contract. 

Also this whole piece is heavily reliant on the use of WAR, which, like all Sabremetic statistics, is flawed in telling the entire story.  I do believe it is a helpful tool to use when evaluating contracts, however, and does help paint the picture of a player’s value. 
With Infante and Aoki in the fold for the Royals they have added two contact hitters with a little pop and a little speed (a little more from Aoki).  These players go right along with the low strikeout strategy that seems to be implemented within the team, as Hosmer, Butler, Escobar, Perez and even Moustakas (not counting all his pop ups) make decent contact for their positions.  The same can be said about the team’s clear strategy to field one of the best defenses in the league, thus utilizing their big ballpark, and help with a weak rotation.
In my post I referred to earlier, I concluded that by arguing the best alternative for the Royals was to sign Mark Ellis, who recently signed a one year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.  While Ellis could have had more playing time elsewhere, it would not surprise me if Ellis wanted to go to St. Louis all along in a platoon type role for a team that made the World Series last year, so this may not have ever been an option anyways. 

I still would rather have Ellis as a stop gap for one year in theory, but the contract that Infante received was far less than expected and I would consider myself a big fan of the signing.  The 2014 Royals are being built to contend, and now the biggest hole on the offensive side is filled, making rotation depth the next step in improving the team’s chances for a playoff run.

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