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New second baseman Omar Infante likes Royals’ young energy

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, at 12:06 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, at 10:21 a.m.

Omar Infante had other options. He could have headed off to the Yankees, who were seeking a second baseman to replace Robinson Cano after Cano signed with Seattle. Infante could have picked a club with more recent playoff success than the Royals.

But for the last two seasons, while playing second base for AL Central rival Detroit, Infante got an up-close look at the growing talent base in Kansas City. It was that familiarity, Infante said, that made him believe a future with the Royals made the most sense.

“I had an opportunity to see this team this year,” Infante said Tuesday as he was introduced during a news conference at Kauffman Stadium. “They (did) great this year.”

Of course, part of the allure might have been the contract the Royals offered — four years with a club option for 2018 worth a guaranteed $30.25 million, longer than any other deal Infante had on the table. But Infante, 31, made it clear that the Royals’ youthful energy played a role in his decision.

“They’ve got a great energy to play,” Infante said, before later adding: “I think we’ll have a great team to win. We’ve got a great team to (advance) to the postseason.”

Infante, who will turn 32 this month, reached the postseason with the Tigers the last two seasons, including a World Series appearance in 2012. He joins an infield that includes three younger players — shortstop Alcides Escobar, 27, third baseman Mike Moustakas, 25, and first baseman Eric Hosmer, 24.

“We’ve admired Omar for a long time,” 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. As I said, he’s got a great heart to play.”

In addition to being the Royals’ regular second baseman, Moore envisions the right-handed-hitting Infante batting near the top of the lineup, likely behind projected leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki, who was acquired from Milwaukee this offseason in exchange for left-handed pitcher Will Smith.

Infante batted .318 with 10 home runs and 24 doubles for the Tigers last season. For his career, he is a .279 hitter with a .319 on-base percentage. But while the batting lineup decisions will fall to manager Ned Yost, Moore believes Infante fits at No. 2 — even with an on-base percentage in the low .300s.

“With a lot of these guys, it just depends on what you want them to do,” Moore said. “If we said, ‘Omar, we need your on-base percentage to be .360 or .370,’ I think he’s the type of player that would just make that happen. He doesn’t swing and miss.”

Even at his worst, Infante projects to be an upgrade over the Royals’ second-base production in 2013, which included contributions from Chris Getz, Miguel Tejada and Emilio Bonifacio. Last season, the club’s second basemen combined to bat .243 with a .296 on-base percentage and four home runs. The addition also allows the Royals to slide the versatile Bonifacio into a full-time utility role.

“We wanted to make this signing for the importance of Omar being in the lineup for us every day,” Moore said. “And I think the tandem of him and Alcides is going to be very, very good.”

The salary addition of Infante likely pushes the Royals’ projected payroll to around $90 million or higher. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Infante will make $5 million next year, $7.5 million in 2015, $7.75 million in 2016 and $8 million in 2017. The club option for 2018 is $10 million with a $2 million buyout.

While Moore previously said he expected the Royals’ 2014 payroll to be around the $85 million they spent last season, he said Tuesday that the club was under no specific directive from owner David Glass to make corresponding reductions after signing Infante.

“Mr. Glass has always been really supportive of anything we’ve needed to do to improve our team,” Moore said, “and we all understand this makes really good sense.”

For now, the Royals could be done making major moves. The club also signed left-handed starter Jason Vargas to a four-year deal worth $32 million. If there’s one offseason priority the Royals failed to address, it’s an impact power bat.

“We’ve got to count on all our young guys getting better,” Moore said. “We’ve got to count on (Moustakas), and we think Moose is going to have a much better year. And we certainly believe that (Hosmer) is going to continue to trend upward, and Billy is capable of having a much better year, which we think he will.”

In the end, if the Royals do stand pat through the rest of the offseason, Moore believes his club has the roster to continue moving forward after finishing 86-76 in 2013.

“If we went into spring training with this current group of players, we’d feel really good,” Moore said. “It’s a good ballclub. But I fully understand and expect us to continue to have to make adjustments along the way.

“And again, you could get a call today or tomorrow with some proposal or some situation that could be very appealing to us or makes us better.”

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com.

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