The KC Royals hoped a December 2013 free agent signing ended their long search for a superb second baseman. But by early 2016, they realized they still hadn’t found the solution.
Frank White is in the Royals’ Hall of Fame for a reason. He’s the best second baseman ever to play for the club. The team found the five-time All-Star’s clutch bat and eight Gold Gloves impossible to replace after his final season in 1990. Chris Getz, Mark Grudzielanek and Carlos Febles each played at least three seasons at second, and Johnny Giavotella and Alberto Callaspo (among many others) took their shots at replacing White but fell short.
And then came December 2013 and Omar Infante. The Royals were just coming off their first winning season in years and believed the playoffs were once again within reach; Infante was an established second-sacker with offensive and defensive credibility. A steady hitter, he was also coming off a good 2013, when he’d slashed .318/.345/.450 with 10 homers in 118 games for Detroit.
To be sure, Infante wasn’t Frank White, but he wasn’t Chris Getz, either. The Royals saw in Infante the solution to their second base puzzle and signed him to a four-year, $30 million contract shortly before Christmas.
Unfortunately, Infante wasn’t the answer. Although the Royals made it to the World Series in 2014, Infante was below league average defensively and his batting average and OBP dropped 66 points and 50 points, respectively. Although he hit .318 in the World Series with three doubles, a homer and five RBI’s, his regular season was not what the club expected, wanted or needed.
Infante was worse in 2015. His average dropped another 32 points and his OBP plummeted 61. Things improved only marginally in 2016 and, with Whit Merrifield knocking loudly on the door at second, the club released Infante on June 21, eating approximately $14 million of their remaining obligation to him.
The Royals firmly believed Infante was the long-sought answer at second base. He wasn’t and the club is fortunate Merrifield came into his own as Infante faded. The Infante deal, an unanticipated failure, ranks here as the team’s second worst free agent signing.