Sorry, Ryan Goins and Munenori Kawasaki.
If Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is serious about the team’s plan to “move forward” and that he’ll have the resources to do so, it goes without saying that the team will have a new face at second base by the start of the 2014 season. It’s easily the team’s biggest hole, and they aren’t likely going to make any headway in the AL East in 2014 with an encore of the the league-worst -2.1 fWAR production from that middle infield spot.
That being said, there’s a big difference between finding a game-changer and a damage-mitigator, and unless the team is looking to make the mother of all splashes by overpaying Robinson Cano‘s initial $300 million asking price. there aren’t exactly a whole lot of options in the upcoming free agent crop of second baseman (and no, Kelly Johnson coming back isn’t an option … probably).
It’s for these kinds of issues that Anthopoulos hasn’t been known for being very active on the FA market as far as looking for upgrades go in his tenure; that said, could there be a happy middle ground to be found?
As Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com suggested in a positional end-of-season overview, one such option could be current Detroit Tigers second baseman Omar Infante, whose contract is set to expire at the end of 2013 and whose future with the team is uncertain.
You know how good a team’s got it when they have a second baseman who has posted 6.0 fWAR between the last two seasons and they’re actually thinking about letting him walk, but the Tigers’ decision could be just the opening that the Blue Jays need here. While the 31-year old has publicly expressed his wish to remain with the team, the Tigers are said to be high on prospect Hernan Perez‘s potential as a starter.
And given that the Infante will likely be looking for at least a four-year deal in the eight-figure per year range, the Tigers may just go with youth given that they have yet another expensive extension looming with likely AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.
Is this the type of signing the Blue Jays can afford?
As far as the on-field fit goes, you’d have to think that Infante would be a major difference-maker who will have little problem fitting it, given that he won’t have face any pressures of being a team leader (also, playing with Jose Reyes may be kind of fun). Going into his age-32 season in 2014, he’ll still be in his prime, and if he manages to put together a 3.0-ish fWAR performance in 2014, we’d be talking about a potential five-win turnaround in just the second base spot, which is plenty good value even for say, $12 million per season.
But what about as potential decline? That’s always a concern when it comes to players in their 30s, but even at a scenario with a 20 percent regression rate in value per season (3.0 fWAR, 2.4, 1.9, 1.5), the Blue Jays would still be getting 8.8 wins over replacement over four years, approximately $43.7 million worth of production based on 2013 positional values.
So, the team could safely pay him something close to $48 million over four years and still be reasonably safe in terms of getting what they’re paying for.
All of it will depend on what the Tigers elect to do, and Toronto isn’t the only team looking for a second base upgrade (the Washington Nationals may be in the mix); that said, in a market where there isn’t a whole lot of middle ground, Infante might just be one of the few options that would be a legitimately good fit with the Blue Jays as far as their window to compete, overall age of the team, and risk/reward value.
That is, if he doesn’t end up being in the center of a bidding war, anyway …