Omar Infante shored up the Tigers' second-base problems when he arrived in the summer of 2012. (Robin Buckson / \Detroit News)
Sure, Justin Verlander is a great pitcher. But can he play second base?
That was the prevalent joke during the stark years before the Tigers acquired Omar Infante from the Florida Marlins in the summer of 2012. Between allowing Placido Polanco to walk after 2009 and Infante taking hold of the position last season, second base was a vast wasteland of players.
Pretty much anyone could be a second baseman for the Tigers — except for the guys already playing the position. Scott Sizemore looked overwhelmed during his short time. Ryan Raburn was completely out of anyone’s comfort zone. Ramon Santiago could field the position fine but left something to be desired with the bat.
That brings us back to Infante. The Tigers chose not to present to Infante a qualifying offer Monday. Had Infante accepted, the Tigers would have had their second base problem shored up for at least another year, but would also have potentially paid $14.1 million for a year of his efforts. That’s pretty expensive.
The team can still come to an agreement with Infante, but to do so they’ll likely have to pay him for the next three or four years, making for a higher total amount though a smaller yearly cost.
And the Tigers really have to do everything in their power to sign Infante.
No-go on Cano
Dreams of Robinson Cano may be fun, but they’re wholly unrealistic. Cano may not get the $30 million a year he’s said to be seeking, but he’s certainly going to get at least $20 million and more likely $25 million. The Tigers already have plenty of big contracts and would almost certainly owe the luxury tax next season, making a Cano signing even pricier. With the need to re-sign Miguel Cabrera coming soon, they can’t even pretend to want Cano.
So what’s that leave? The free agent market beyond Cano and Infante gets relatively weak, relatively quick. And a team with World Series aspirations like the Tigers cannot simply hand the position over to an unproven, light-hitting player like Hernan Perez. Filling in for 71 plate appearances this year, Perez batted .197 with almost no power. With shortstop Jose Iglesias already expected to be a relative lightweight, that’s a rather weak-hitting middle infield to carry and a lot of pressure to put on young players.
So it’s clearly Infante or bust here.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, this is kind of a bad year to be in that position. Infante is coming off one of the better seasons in his career. He hit .318 with a .345 on-base percentage in 2013, the best figures since 2010. He slugged .450, which is the highest in his career. Defensively he was a little worse than normal, but he still came out at 2.4 wins above replacement, per Baseball-Reference’s stats. That matches his second-best season ever, 2011, and trails 2010. Couple that with Infante being one of the best second basemen on the market, and you’ve got a bad recipe.
A back-of-the-napkin estimate would put Infante’s expected payday anywhere between $8 million per year and $11 million, or about $25-32 million for the total contract value.
That might be a lot of money owed to an underperforming 34- or 35-year-old second baseman a couple of years down the line.
But unless Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski can again perform some sort of wizardry at or before the winter meetings in December, the Tigers might not have much of a choice.
Can he play second base? Yes, Infante can.
The Tigers have to do everything they can to make sure he’s doing just that next season in Detroit.