How Omar Infante’s Health Could Affect the Royals’ Bullpen

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Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When the Royals signed Omar Infante to a four-year contract last winter, they likely realized they would be paying quite a bit of money to a 34- and 35-year old second baseman. But as is the case with most free agent contracts, the team expected to get plenty of productivity early on to make the the deal worth the cost overall.

Of course, it’s difficult for a player to produce when he’s constantly dealing with injuries.

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Infante was banged up for all of 2014, with various ailments causing him to look nothing like the player he was in 2013. Those injuries followed him into the new year, and his nagging elbow forced him to receive a cortisone shot over the weekend.

The shot, along with a few days of rest, should provide some relief. Temporarily. A cortisone shot is merely a band-aid, and it doesn’t really possess any long-term healing powers. Infante is going to get into the batter’s box this week, and he might feel good enough to start taking reps at second shortly after that. But he’s probably going to have this issue again.

I don’t have access to Infante’s medical records, and even if I did, I wouldn’t know what the best course of action is. I’m a blogger, not a doctor. However, if a few days of rest are good, it would make sense that a few weeks of rest are even better. The Royals need Infante to be healthy all year, and if starting the season with Christian Colon at second means Infante won’t fade in the second half, so be it.

While I don’t think that’s how the Royals will handle it – and I’m not going to tell Nick Kenney how to do his job – I thought it might be interesting to see what the roster could look like if Infante is on the disabled list when they open the season in Kansas City.

Obviously if Colon is starting at second, the Royals would need another utility player, preferably one who can hit left-handed pitching and play third base. Ryan Roberts fits that description, and while a roster spot would need to be created for him, it’s certainly possible.

The Royals could also go with Cheslor Cuthbert, who’s had some impressive moments in Spring Training thus far. Cuthbert isn’t the ideal middle infielder, and I don’t know if his bat will look all that great right away, but he’s on the roster, and has a pretty good approach at the plate.

If those options don’t look appealing, they could look outside the organization for trade targets, particularly with teams that have multiple middle infielders without options. The Orioles and the Angels both fit in this category, along with a few other teams.

There aren’t perfect alternatives anywhere, and losing Infante early on would force the Royals to lean on a big pile of question marks, including their would-be new second baseman. Colon looked great in a tiny sample last year, but at this time last year, there were doubts about his ability to hit at even the Triple-A level. He’s far from a sure thing. And as you see above, the backups have plenty of warts. Putting a flawed player in the lineup, only to replace him on the bench with one flawed player is not ideal.

So here’s another idea: replace him with two players.

The Royals can’t expect to easily grab a first division starting second baseman without giving up something of value, and their internal utility options are, well, they’re bench players for a reason. If they only have one option on the bench, they have to rely on that one player to provide value, and considering the offensive question marks at second and third base, that can be risky.

Having multiple players on the bench means the responsibility to provide value is spread more evenly. Basically, they can throw more stuff at the wall and hope something sticks. If one guy struggles, the next one can step in, and if he struggles, the next guy steps in. If that guy struggles, hopefully Infante is back to full health. Having depth is always important, and even more so when the starters are mostly unproven.

Now, having a full bench would be tough to do if the Royals opt for an eight-man bullpen, as they have alluded to. They want to protect Jandel Gustave on the roster, and the pen is already full of six other relievers, once Luke Hochevar is healed.

So the question then becomes, is it more important to shorten an already short bench in an effort to maybe get some value from Gustave in a few years? Or should they go with a seven-man bullpen so they have more depth on the bench? The choice seems simple.

Then again, those might not be the only two options. If Infante is anything close to healthy, the Royals will roll with him at second, Colon on the bench, and possibly Gustave and seven others in the bullpen. They almost certainly don’t need eight relievers, even if Infante is healthy, but that’s another discussion for another day.

Infante doesn’t need to be a star for the Royals to be successful. He doesn’t even need to be as good as he was in 2013. But the team can’t carry an offensive black hole when there are other question marks around the diamond.

They have to get something from second base for the entire season, and if that means they need to open the season with Colon and a few extra spare parts, the Royals should still be fine. They would likely need to give up on the idea of an eight-man bullpen, but that’s a necessary sacrifice to ensure the lineup has enough depth to get by until Infante is ready to go.

Next: The Royals & The Triangle of Rhetoric

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