In a busy day in terms of Marlins moves, one piece of unequivocal good news came out (we’ll talk about the other piece a little bit later). The Marlins announced yesterday that they re-signed Omar Infante to a two-year deal worth $8 million total. I had mentioned quite a few times earlier to MM readers via Twitter that the Marlins would be wise to re-sign Infante given their lack of depth in the middle infield, especially if they were not considering moving Chris Coghlan to second base. Since June 5, Infante has returned to being his old self and then some, batting .310/.342/.480 with a more characteristic .336 BABIP that we have been used to seeing the past three seasons. Since that time, his batting line has returned to an acceptable level and as a result Infante has appeared like an increasingly better option to have around the organization for the next few years.
We looked at this recent hot streak earlier in the season and decided that it looks similar enough to his Atlanta Braves days that it would not surprise us to see him hit this well again. However, perhaps the more intriguing thing about Infante’s game as it relates to value is his defense. Prior to this season, he spent much of his mid- to late-20’s as a utility infielder playing various different positions and not doing any one of them in an outstanding fashion. Yet this season almost every defensive statistic has him playing an oustanding second base.
We aren’t entirely certain he was this good in 2011, and we certainly cannot expect him to be this good in 2012, but the scouting idea that Infante was a top-notch defender in 2011 is backed up by the stats. The uncertainty makes it quite difficult to judge how valuable he will be in the future, but we can generally agree that he is an asset on the defensive end. Knowing that, the Marlins can live with a weaker offensive player who can provide value with his glove at a premium position like second base and still make out like bandits in terms of paying him, as teams generally pay for offensive performance at the majority of positions before they pay for defensive prowess.
It would seem that the Marlins did just that with their contract with Infante. In the linked article, I estimated that the Marlins could pay Infante $6.8 million per season and suspected that the team would be interested in a two-year deal. That would pay for a 1.7-win player, someone just below the league average mark. The Marlins actually will end up paying Infante $4 million per season for two years. This essentially values him as a one-win player, which does seem understandable given his offensive performance but does not take into account his defensive talents, which may be above average or better. If the team gets the sort of season that Infante has supposedly provided this year (most Wins Above Replacement metrics have him at around three wins), they would be underpaying Infante by almost eight million per season. Even if he is an average starter, the team is benefiting from this deal, making it a sure-fire victory for the Fish. Their middle infield is now set through 2013.