From what we've been told, the Yankees will try their best to re-sign second baseman Robinson Cano. Yet with the asking price soaring over $300 million, it's hard to imagine that negotiations will be fluid this winter, and the Yankees have already begun setting the framework for a backup plan. According to Ken Davidoff and George King, the Yankees have contacted Omar Infante to express interest this winter. But Infante, a second baseman with the Tigers in 2013, is definitely considered a downgrade from Cano, and the collective reception to this rumor by most Yankee fans was adverse.
The difference between Cano and the 32 year old Infante is night and day. Cano is a much more impressive hitter capable of a 30+ home run season while hitting for a high average. Infante has averaged a .279/.319/.402 slash line over his career, worth a 92 wRC+. But before we start talking about his poor career numbers, Infante is coming off an impressive performance with the Tigers, where he hit .318/.345/.450 in 476 plate appearances. In the confines of Comerica Park, this was good for a 117 wRC+, not terribly far off from Cano's career 126 wRC+.
As I mentioned earlier, Infante's 2013 performance was impressive, but it was by far the best offensive year of his career. In recent years, Cano has improved dramatically, and his 142 wRC+ in 2013 and 149 wRC+ in 2012 is no comparison to anything Infante's done at the plate.
The difference between the two players continues on the field. Infante is an average second basman, yet again a downgrade from Cano. Despite a 2.4 UZR/150 in 2013, and a 3.2 career UZR/150, DRS has him at just a 2 runs saved above average over his entire career. On the other hand, Cano owns 23 runs saved over his career. Yet again, Cano is the better player on the field.
What Infante does offer is versatility. Infante may be best viewed as a top notch utility player than a starting second baseman. He has a valuable glove at short stop with a considerable amount of time there. Infante also has an average glove at third base, and can fake it in the outfield. Though a team will want to primarily play Infante up the middle, his versatility adds another dimension to his value.
While he's far from the super star that Cano is, Infante could be an above average second baseman, and someone who would come much cheaper on the free agent market. Even if the Yankees do sign Cano, I think Infante remains a realistic target going forward. With the questions remaining around Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, Infante could represent insurance at either position. Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, and a handful of other players showed a weakness in depth in the left side of the infield in 2013, and Infante would fix a huge hole if an injury or suspension were to occur.
Tim Dierkes over at MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Infante will receive a 3 year $25 million deal this winter. If the Yankees do indeed plan on a spending spree, they may be looking at Infante as more of a third base replacement and utility infielder than a replacement to Cano. Of course, if everything goes wrong, he may be the best free agent option at second base.