Infante on board to help Royals take next step
Second baseman forms formidable combination with shortstop Escobar
KANSAS CITY -- Omar Infante, wearing a Royals jersey with his name and No. 14 on the back, looked right at home at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday.
Why not? After all, Infante hit .375 against Kansas City last season and .500 (10-for-20) in five games at Kauffman Stadium. He missed some games when he was out with an ankle injury or he might have done better. So isn't he going miss playing against the Royals?
"That's baseball, you know. It's like that," he said. "I have to do my job here in Kansas City, and I think we have a great team to win and go to the postseason. I came here to win."
That's what the Royals had in mind when they signed Infante to a four-year, $30.25 million contract to play second base. The deal also includes a club option for a fifth year, 2018, for $10 million with a $2 million buyout.
"We've admired Omar for a long time," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "He's always been a winning, championship-type player. We obviously wanted to improve and upgrade at second base and we had our eye on him from the very beginning."
Infante, accompanied by his wife, Yohanna, was introduced to Kansas City in a news conference at his new stadium home on Tuesday morning. Onlookers included, oddly enough, Braves president John Schuerholz and general manager Frank Wren, for whom Infante played from 2008-10. They just happened to be in town, checking out Kauffman's attributes for the new stadium they're planning in Atlanta.
Infante could tell them one thing about Kauffman Stadium.
"It's a great park to hit in. I'm a line-drive hitter and I like this stadium," he said.
Infante's long-term deal left the Yankees looking elsewhere for a second baseman after Infante rejected their three-year, $24 million offer.
"I had the opportunity to see this team up close this year and was very impressed by what they did and they're close to taking the next step," Infante said with a translating assist from his agent, Gene Mato.
Infante will team with a fellow Venezuelan, shortstop Alcides Escobar, in the middle of the Royals' defensively-adept infield.
"I think the tandem of him and Alcides is going to be very, very good, and we're very proud of what they're going to potentially bring to our team in the middle of the diamond," Moore said. "The double-play combination is crucial to the success of your baseball team. Obviously, it helps the pitching a great deal, puts the game in rhythm, and we've got to be able to execute fundamentally and Omar certainly has been a terrific performer in that area."
He's also expected to hit second behind a newly-acquired leadoff batter, right fielder Norichika Aoki, with left fielder Alex Gordon moving from the top to the middle of the batting order.
"I think we always wanted to get Gordo in the middle. That's always been important to us, so I think it sets us up pretty good," Moore said. "The thing about Nori and Omar is both of them give highly professional at-bats. They don't strike out, they battle good pitchers and of course it gives us a chance to put Gordo in the middle and just drive the baseball."
As a No. 2 hitter in his career, Infante's batting average is .279, matching his overall mark, and his on-base percentage is .318, one point below his career OBP.
"With a lot of these guys, it just depends on what you want them to do," Moore said. "I think if we said, 'Omar, we need your on-base percentage to be .360, .370,' he's the type of player that would make that happen."
Infante, who'll turn 32 the day after Christmas, said he enjoys helping younger players, which the Royals have in abundance.
"Oh, yeah, I like that," he said. "We have a lot of young talent and I try to be a good teammate, and anytime I can help them, I'll be there for them."
And he believes his postseason experience with the Braves and Tigers, including two World Series, will be a benefit if the Royals achieve their goal of reaching the playoffs.
"I think the fact that I'm a veteran that's been in the postseason is really going to help these guys in dealing with the pressure that comes with having to perform in those games as opposed to the regular season," Infante said.
The Royals' payroll is now hovering around $90 million, a franchise record, and Moore says he's under no directive from owner David Glass to cut back.
"From day one, our focus has always been to put the best team we can on the field. That's all Mr. Glass has told us to do," Moore said.
With Infante, Aoki and starting pitcher Jason Vargas added to the roster, the Royals may be finished with major moves in the offseason. Or maybe not.
"If we went into Spring Training with this group of players, we'd feel really good. It's a good ballclub," Moore said before adding: "We could get a call today or tomorrow with some proposal or situation that could be very appealing to us and makes us better."
What about those trade rumors that keep popping up about designated hitter Billy Butler?
"It's no different than you hear about other players around the league that potentially are going to be moved. It's just all hot stove rhetoric, really," Moore said. "We think Billy's been a terrific hitter -- Billy is a terrific hitter -- and he's going to continue to hit. That's what Billy does. I know he's having a great offseason with his work ethic and his focus, and we think he's going to have a terrific year in '14."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.