When Omar Infante made last year's All-Star team, it surprised most fans, puzzled many and angered some. Utility players don't generally represent their league at the midsummer classic. But they don't generally lead their team with a .321 average and that's exactly what Infante did in 2010.
Doubters will point out that Infante has no track record to support his '10 performance and suggest that luck helped boost his slash line to .321/.359/.416. Infante, who had qualified for the batting title just once before last year, has a career batting average of .313 on balls in play. That figure jumped to .355 in 2010 and his line drive rate dipped, which could mean that Infante's offensive production is due to fall off.
There's more to Infante than his offense, though. He started games at second, short, third, left and right last year and though he has never logged 1,000 innings at any position on the diamond, his infield defense appears to be average. Infante's career UZR sits no higher than 2.4 and no lower than -1.2 at second, third and short, an indication that he can provide MLB-caliber defense at all three positions (the Marlins will likely play him at second in place of the man he was traded for, Dan Uggla).
If Infante continues to play solid defense and comes close to matching his 2010 production, he could position himself for a substantial contract. His former teammate, Placido Polanco hit .285/.331/.396 as a 33-year-old before signing a three-year $18MM deal with the Phillies in 2009. That same year, former utility player Marco Scutaro hit .282/.379/.409 as a 33-year-old and signed a $12.5MM deal.
Infante has yet to turn 30, so he could obtain a multiyear deal as a free agent after the season if he completes the transition from utility player to established regular like Polanco and Scutaro did. If Infante falters, however, his critics will be quick to re-apply the 'utility player' label and his free agency will likely end with a modest one-year deal.