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As interest in Infante picks up, KC praises Bonifacio

As interest in Infante picks up, KC praises Bonifacio

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As interest in Infante picks up, KC praises Bonifacio

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Speculation about second baseman Omar Infante and the Royals spiked upward on Wednesday as the Winter Meetings headed toward a conclusion.

Supposedly the Royals were negotiating with Infante, a free agent, while other clubs -- most notably the Yankees -- also were showing intense interest.

"That's what I keep hearing," general manager Dayton Moore said drily. "I don't know what to say, I've been getting calls all day about it."

At the top of the Royals' current depth chart at second base is Emilio Bonifacio, who did a fine job for them late last season. And, a moment later, Moore did find something to say.

"What I would say is, with our second-base situation, we're very pleased with Boni and we're just staying open-minded as we move forward with our team," Moore said.

One potential stumbling block for the Royals and other teams is that Infante, who'll turn 32 on the day after Christmas, reportedly is chasing a four-year contract at $8 million or more annually. But Moore wasn't saying anything specific about Infante.

"We like our team and we're going to look for ways to improve and upgrade, but there's nothing close to anything," Moore said.

Infante, in 118 games last season for Detroit, hit .318 with 24 doubles, three triples and 10 home runs among his 144 hits. He had 51 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .345.

A right-handed batter, Infante has hit most often second in the order -- the spot envisioned for Bonifacio -- with a .279 average. That also happens to be Infante's overall career average in 12 years with the Tigers, Braves and Marlins.

Strong defensively with good range to his left, Infante gets off quick throws on the double play. This year, he had 10 errors in 509 chances. Infante was out from July 4 to Aug. 12 with a left ankle injury.

If it comes to an expensive long-term contract to sign Infante, the Royals could opt for a shorter, less-costly alternative in Bonifacio. He's eligible for salary arbitration, and his 2013 salary of $2.6 million likely will rise to about $3.3 million next year. That would be a sizable saving over Infante.

The versatile Bonifacio, 28, has been a backup player through much of his seven seasons in the Majors. However, he had his best year in 2011, when he played 152 games for the Marlins, posting a .296 average, a .360 on-base percentage and 40 stolen bases.

When the Royals picked him up from Toronto last Aug. 14, he was batting just .218 with an on-base percentage of .258. The Royals encouraged the switch-hitter to take a more disciplined approach at the plate.

"It was there," manager Ned Yost said. "I don't think he became more disciplined, but that was the focus we wanted him to have. Being as smart as he is and as athletic as he is and the ability to adapt, I think he really made a mindset change.

"We sat him down and said, 'This is what we want you to do: We want you to take more pitches, we want you to be a table-setter, we want you on base, we want you stealing bases, we want you scoring runs.' And he took it to heart."

So much so that in his 42 games with the Royals, Bonifacio hit .285, and his on-base percentage jumped to .352. He also swiped 16 bases in 18 tries. Primarily an infielder, Bonifacio's also very adept in center field.

The Royals also were linked in the hotel lobby rumor mill to veteran pitchers Johan Santana and Jason Hammel, both free agents.

Left-hander Santana, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, has missed two of the last three seasons because of shoulder surgeries. Santana, 34, last pitched in 2012, and he was 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA in 21 games for the Mets.

Hammel, a 31-year-old right-hander, was 7-8 with a 4.97 ERA in 26 games last season for the Orioles. He was hampered by forearm problems.

"We're certainly looking to add depth to our rotation with some veteran guys, and we'll see how that goes," Moore said.

On the schedule for Thursday morning is the annual Rule 5 Draft of Minor Leaguers, and the Royals have one open spot on their 40-man roster for a possible selection.

Although the Royals might leave the Winter Meetings without a significant transaction, Moore is pleased with what his staff has accomplished.

"I know what we've done is we've had a lot of great discussions," he said. "We've laid some groundwork and we've been able to evaluate the other 29 teams in a way that might set us up for future opportunities to make deals. Our people have done a great job of dissecting the remaining free agents and how they might fit in."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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