One of the biggest questions the Tigers will face heading into the 2013 offseason -- later rather than sooner, we hope -- is what they will do to replace their middle infielders. Both Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante are free agents after this season, and there are no immediate replacements ready in the Tigers farm system. Peralta is having another excellent season at the plate, but his defensive range -- or lack thereof -- and looming Biogenesis rumors have some questioning whether he will be in Detroit after 2013.
Infante, on the other hand, is a no-brainer. He is arguably the best option on the free agent market not named Robinson Cano and won't break the bank when the Tigers look to extend other players. Here are Infante's season and career numbers.
As you can see, Infante is in the midst of a career year. He put up a higher batting average, on-base percentage. and wOBA with the Atlanta Braves in 2010, but is putting up career highs in every other offensive category listed above. Here's where he ranks among MLB second basemen with at least 150 plate appearances:
- Average: 6th
- On-base percentage: 12th
- Slugging average: 8th
- wOBA: 11th
- wRC+: 13th
- fWAR: t-6th (Howie Kendrick has played 15 more games)
What does this mean? Other than a slight pay raise this offseason, not much. The Tigers know what they are getting with Infante: a solid two-way player at second base who doesn't walk much, but can be an above average ninth hitter. The same can't be said for some of the other options on the free agent market.
Robinson Cano is the crown jewel of the free agent market after 2013, but it's hard to imagine a scenario where the New York Yankees let him walk away. He's 30 years old -- a baby by their standards -- and still putting up huge numbers in the middle of their lineup. Plus, I have a hard time seeing Jay-Z let his biggest client leave New York, even if he does get a slight pay raise.
Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is fifth in the majors among second baseman with 2.6 fWAR this season. The pop in his bat seems to have returned after three injury-filled seasons, but he missed a month in 2013 with a rib injury. Utley hasn't been able to stay healthy, and he will be 35 in 2014. He would be a decent option on a cheap contract, but would he take a significant pay cut -- he's making $15 million this year -- to make it worth his limited production? I doubt it.
Kelly Johnson has revitalized his career in Tampa, hitting .244/.320/.442 this year with a .330 wOBA and 113 wRC+. Some fans wanted the Tigers to sign Johnson prior to the 2012 season, but his poor numbers with the Toronto Blue Jays suggest that Dave Dombrowski's patience when looking for a second baseman paid off in the end. Johnson has been extremely inconsistent from year to year, but his upside make him an attractive option.
There are several other second basemen slated to become free agents this offseason, but none are deserving of a full-time starting job on a championship caliber club. The Tigers learned their lesson on trying to mix and match second basemen from 2010 until Infante arrived in 2012, and I doubt they are looking to repeat that history with a potential title on the line.
Extend Infante, Tigers brass. We all will be glad you did.