KANSAS CITY - The Kansas City Royals filled the most glaring hole in their roster Monday night when they finalized a $30.25-million, four-year deal with Omar Infante to become their primary second baseman.
The agreement, which includes a club option for 2018, was reached last Friday. Infante will be introduced during a news conference today at Kauffman Stadium.
The notoriously frugal Royals have been aggressive this offseason after posting their best record in more than two decades at 86-76. They already have signed left-hander Jason Vargas to a $32-million, four-year contract and traded reliever Will Smith to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Norichika Aoki.
Vargas and Aoki filled two major needs, but Infante may plug the most vexing one.
The Royals churned through six players last season - Emilio Bonifacio, Jamey Carroll, Chris Getz, Johnny Giavotella, Elliot Johnson and Miguel Tejada - combined to hit just .243 with four home runs, none of them doing enough to win the job on a full-time basis for next season.
Bonifacio was the most likely option, but he'll instead slide into a utility role thanks to his ability to play around the infield along with the outfield. Infante will primarily play second base, though he also has the ability to play several infield positions and the outfield.
Infante, who turns 32 on Dec. 26, played exclusively at second base for Detroit last season. He hit .318 with 10 homers and 51 RBI in 118 games.
He received substantial interest from the New York Yankees, who were seeking a replacement for Robinson Cano. But the Yankees were hesitant to give Infante more than three years, and the Royals gave him an extra year while tacking on the club option to lure him to Kansas City.
The Royals are certainly familiar with Infante from having watched him play for their AL Central rival Detroit. He came up with the Tigers in 2002, and then was traded to the Cubs and Braves before landing back in Detroit two years ago, when he helped the Tigers win an AL pennant.
Infante has hit .279 with 74 homers and 421 RBI over his 12-year career. He's never played more than 149 games in a season, and missed more than a month last year with an ankle injury that occurred when the Blue Jays' Colby Rasmus slid into his leg.
Aoki is expected to hit first with Infante sliding into the second spot in the batting order, giving the Royals a pair of hitters with solid on-base percentages to lead off the lineup. That would allow them to slide outfielder Alex Gordon into an RBI-producing role in the middle of the order.
The deal for Infante also could signal a chance in the way the Royals conduct business.
General manager Dayton Moore has said he expects payroll to be "about the same" as last season, which was roughly $82 million. But by adding Infante to the ledger, the Royals are on the verge of pushing their payroll beyond $90 million for the first time.
Of course, there's always the chance the Royals will make a move to trim salary.
Designated hitter Billy Butler, who regressed last season after his first All-Star appearance, has been floated as a potential trade candidate. He's due $8.5 million in 2014 with a $12.5 million club option for 2015, but his list of suitors would be limited to a select number of AL clubs, and he's coming off a down season in which he hit just .289 with 15 homers and 82 RBI.
There are few other options that appear expendable. Most of the Royals' core players - Eric Hosmer, for example - are either under club control or signed to club-friendly contracts.