Anyone would have been better than Getz–literally any major league player. Baseball Prospectus’s Ben Lindbergh let the world in on a secret that Royals fans already knew. Chris Getz is the worst. In fact, not only has Royals second base been the least productive fielded position in the major leagues since Getz joined the team, he might even be the worst everyday player of the past 30 years not to play a premium position.
A handful of viable reasons exist not to have replaced Getz in any one of the four seasons he spent with the team, but there’s no such thing as a good reason to keep him for four years. Getting Infante may end up helping the Royals more than any other move that Dayton Moore has made, but it has ambivalent connotations because no team should have to make this drastic an upgrade just to emplace an average infielder.
Infante hit .318/.345/.450 last season and had a career year. His offensive output is heavily contact-dependent. Since 2008, he’s only averaged 33 walks per 162 games and is ninja quick at getting out of the way of inside pitches, so he isn’t hit by many fastballs. Even when he doesn’t have a very good season at the plate, he hasn’t slipped below a 90 OPS+, which makes him one of the more consistently average hitters in the league. He may not repeat his .795 OPS, but he probably won’t give anything less than .700, giving the Royals a floor at the position that never before existed.
Where he can really provide additional value is on defense. Over the past three years, his defense been worth 18.2 runs according to UZR and 29 runs according to Rtot. Defensive Runs Saved did not value him as highly last season, but before that he was always a well-regarded defender by any measure.
All Infante has to do is play average baseball. If he does, he will improve the team by two or three wins more than they’ve gotten from the position in past years.
Before the Royals signed Infante, they were reluctantly prepared to enter the season with Emilio Bonifacio as their starting second-baseman. People have a partially distorted view of how valuable Emilio Bonifacio is. That can happen when the player he replaced was one of the least valuable second basemen in modern history. Depending on which value system is being used, Bonifacio is worth 1.3 WAR or lower in each of the last two seasons, which is quite below average for an everyday player (but quite above average for a utility player). An upgrade at second base was essential to the team’s success.
In a bizarre finish, the Royals outbid the Yankees for Infante, by offering him 4 years and $30.25 million ($2 million buyout option in 2018). They are also only paying him $5 million this year. That way, if the Royals decide somewhere along the line to trade him (if possible), another team would have to pick up the more expensive years. Considering that “wins” average about $6 million on the free agent market, Infante only has to be average for the next two years for him to be worth his paycheck.
Looking at this signing only for its immediate effects on the team make it appear exceptional. If we consider the original failure of Dayton Moore to upgrade the position earlier and cheaper, and then consider how badly second baseman age, that fourth year on the contract might look ugly. This signing has some warts, but not enough to ignore just how massive an improvement it really is.
Overall Grade B+