No doubt Royals improved offensively with Infante, Aoki
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the 2013 season ended for the Royals, they had four glaring weaknesses in their batting order:
** Royals second basemen last season combined to hit .243 with a .296 on-base percentage.
** Royals right fielders: .258 average with a .304 on-base percentage.
** Shortstop Alcides Escobar: .230 average with a .255 on-base percentage.
** Third baseman Mike Moustakas: .232 average with a .284 on-base percentage.
Now, though, general manager Dayton Moore believes he has filled at least two of those offensive holes with the recent trade for right fielder Norichika Aoki and with this week’s signing of second baseman Omar Infante (four years, $30.25 million with a fifth-year club option).
The signing of Infante, 31, certainly solves a lingering issue for the Royals — a soft spot at second base that has existed ever since they tried to shoe-horn light-hitting Chris Getz into that role four years ago.
“Omar brings a great deal to our ballclub both offensively and defensively,” Moore said. “He’s a contact hitter who can get on base and he simply doesn’t make mistakes.”
While Aoki brings a healthy .356 on-base percentage to the top of the order, Infante’s career OBP is a rather modest .318, though it was .345 last season.
“I think he will do whatever you ask him to do,” Moore said. “He’s one of those hitters that if you ask him to get on base, his on-base percentage will go up.”
Infante likely will hit No. 2 in manager Ned Yost’s order, a spot where Infante has hit the most in his career.
“I hit lower in the lineup for Detroit,” Infante said, “but I will do whatever they ask me to do.”
At least on paper, there seems little doubt that the Royals’ offense has improved significantly with Moore’s off-season moves.
Yost struggled trying to settle on an order most of the year, shuffling Alex Gordon in and out of the top spot, and never quite settling on a No. 2 hitter until after Emilio Bonifacio arrived late in the season.
But with Aoki and Infante, Yost likely will be able to deliver a lineup card each day with some stability throughout.
Moore and Yost still will need better seasons in 2014 out of the other two holes in last year’s lineup: Escobar and Moustakas.
“We fully expect them to improve,” Moore said. “There’s no one on our team who isn’t trending up.”
And while Moore had hoped to land a run-producer/power hitter this off-season — the Royals came up short in their pursuit of Carlos Beltran — Moore also maintains that the Royals may have found their run producer internally with Gordon.
Gordon is likely to shift down to No. 5 in the order behind Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler.
Gordon has averaged 19 homers and 80 RBIs over the last three seasons hitting primarily from the leadoff spot.
“We’ve always envisioned Alex as more of a run producer and middle-of-the-lineup guy,” Moore said.
The acquisitions of Aoki and Infante now will allow Gordon to focus more on power production, something the Royals’ offense sorely lacks.
Moore also is counting on the rest of his lineup to step it up offensively in 2014.
“We know Billy is capable of having a much better year than he had (in 2013),” Moore said. “We expect Hoz to continue to improve. We know Sal (Perez) is trending up. And, of course, we hope to get a healthy season out of Lorenzo Cain.
“We certainly need our guys to continue to get better. If you were to look ahead at whoever wins the World Series in 2014, it will be a team that had several guys do more than they were projected to do. That’s how you win. And that’s what we’re hoping to see.”
The signing of Infante also allows Moore and Yost more flexibility with their lineup, most notably permitting Bonifacio to become a super utility player.
Bonifacio can play second, short, third and all outfield positions.
“(Bonifacio) is going to be a very valuable part of our team,” Moore said. “This (signing of Infante) gives us much more depth and flexibility.”
The Infante signing also is yet another clear sign that the Royals are in all-in mode. The Royals had been hoping to fill the second-base void when they drafted Christian Colon with the fourth overall pick of the 2010 draft.
But Colon has been slow to develop in the minors and the Royals simply can’t wait forever for him to get to the major leagues.
Moore, though, said the Royals haven’t given up on Colon.
“Not at all,” Moore said. “It’s all about timing. We felt we had an opportunity right now to improve our team with a guy in Omar that we can fit right into our lineup and at the top of the order.”
Coincidentally, Infante, a solid defensive second baseman with versatility as a hitter, is exactly the type of player the Royals had envisioned Colon would develop into.
“Absolutely, but there’s still time with (Colon),” Moore said. “We just have an obligation to get better each and every year.
“And I’m not saying we’re done massaging the roster yet. But I will say that if this is the team that we enter spring training with, we are a better team than we were last year.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.