On Sunday the Royals announced Omar Infante would miss the first week to week and a half of Cactus League games. You would be excused if your reaction was, “Here we go again.” This is the third spring in as many years with the Royals that Infante will not be completely healthy. He missed time in 2014 with shoulder and arm issues and he sat out a portion of the 2015 spring with elbow soreness.
There are a couple of recurring themes here. One, Infante is just not a good player anymore. In his two seasons with the Royals, Infante has hit .238/.268/.329. That’s horrific offensive production no matter how you slice it. His defense wasn’t great in 2014, but it was better last season. Still, there is absolutely no way his glove compensates for his lackluster bat.
The Royals have been vocal this winter that second base is an open competition between Infante and Christian Colon. I’ve been skeptical since this idea was first floated because this is so unlike the Royals. Sure, since they’ve gotten good they have been more calculating than emotional when it comes to certain players. (And that’s a good thing.) However, given the circumstances where Infante is a veteran with a track record and over $16 million owed to him over the next two seasons, and where Colon is unproven in the majors and we know how the Royals shy away from that at second base, it seemed that the idea of a competition was their way of selling something that no one was going to line up to buy.
Now, it kind of makes sense.
Since Infante is going to miss time again this spring, and if he struggles in the spring, or continues to be plagued by elbow soreness, you could certainly see where the Royals would lean to Colon. At least out of the gate.
At the very least, Colon should be on extreme standby. Second basemen don’t generally age well. And Infante is showing signs of suffering a complete medical breakdown.
Let’s revisit his 2015 injury list:
Infante arrived at camp and said he felt fine. Ominous quote: “I don’t really feel anything with the elbow… maybe just a little bit. Not worried.”
Which leads us to a week later.
Infante was scratched from his first scheduled Cactus League game with soreness in his elbow.
Infante received a cortisone shot in his elbow.
For the first time, Infante mentioned surgery as an offseason possibility to deal with bone spurs in his elbow.
Infante made his 2015 Cactus League debut in the field. He had been getting plate appearances as a designated hitter.
In a game against the Oakland A’s, Infante leaves in the fifth inning with a groin strain he suffered while legging out a double. At the time, he was hitting .250/.244/.350 in 41 plate appearances.
The Royals termed his injury as “day to day.” Infante returned to the lineup four days later.
Ned Yost backs Infante as the Royals starting second baseman. Infante is hitting .222/.232/.315 at the time.
June 15 – June 30
Infante goes on a run where he collects 19 hits in 57 plate appearances over 15 games. During this stretch, he hits. 333/.333/.421.
Infante sits out with back spasms. With Ben Zobrist at second base, the Royals are in no hurry to rush Infante back to the lineup. He sits for a week, making one appearance in the field as a late-inning defensive replacement.
Sept 7 – 16
The Royals go through a stretch where Infante sits out all but one game where he entered as a late-inning defensive replacement. There is no reported reason for Infante’s absence from the lineup. Zobrist started all games at second.
Infante returns to the lineup and posts a career high seven RBI going 3-4 with a double and a home run.
After two at bats, Infante exits the game against the Detroit Tigers with an oblique strain. He would miss the rest of the regular season and would not be included on any of the Royals post-season rosters. He travelled to Arizona in mid-October for a rehab assignment, but the Royals weren’t satisfied he was making enough progress to activate him for the World Series.
Infante underwent surgery to remove the bone spurs in his elbow. This is the surgery that was revealed last weekend to be a little more extensive than previously thought.
The Royals will try to convince themselves that a healthy Infante equals a good Infante. The reality is they have a 34 year old second baseman who can’t avoid injury and just isn’t that good anymore. He may have his moments, like that seven RBI game last September, but if the Royals choose to award Infante with the lion’s share of plate appearances at second base this year, they should expect to be underwhelmed offensively while keeping the trainers on the clock.
The Royals have had a black hole at second base for years. They thought they addressed the issue by bringing Infante on board. Sometimes, you convince yourself you need a new car and despite due diligence, you end up with a lemon. Infante will get every opportunity to stay healthy and remain in the starting lineup. The conventional wisdom will say the Royals built a big lead in the AL Central last year and won the AL pennant the year before with Infante in the lineup, so anything they can get from him in 2016 would be bonus. That’s the kind of short-sighted thinking second division teams engage. These are the new Royals. They should do the right thing and limit Infante’s appearances while actively looking to upgrade the position in 2016 and beyond.