Ottoneu Arbitration Targets – Infield

As promised, I am continuing to share potential arbitration targets going position-by-position. Last week we covered pitchers; today we cover infielders. 

As a reminder, for this series, I will focus on the allocation form of arbitration, though I think these names work just as well as targets if your league does vote offs. If you are new to Ottoneu arbitration, check out this article from Brad Johnson a few years back – it is a collection of links to all you need to know about Ottoneu arbitration.

For the purposes of this series, I will focus on players whose median salary makes them a good arbitration target. If they are a good target at their median, that means they are a good target in half of leagues, and very likely are a good target in another 10-20% of leagues where they are above their median but still relatively low priced.

Infielders were a bit easier to select than pitchers, as there are some relatively obvious targets who don’t come with the risk inherent to throwing baseballs really, really hard for a living.  I tried to find a target at each IF position and was surprised to find that the two toughest spots were on opposite ends of the spectrum: SS and C.

SS has become an elite fantasy position recently, with a ton of big-name stars carrying the position, while C improved this past year but is still rough. At SS, the top scorers – Trea Turner, Bo Bichette, Xander Bogaerts, etc. – are all expensive already. The best SS (by points per game) with a median salary below $25 and more than 20 games played was Andres Gimenez, who was 6th in P/G with a median salary of $4. But he is also primarily at 2B and may lose SS eligibility in 2023 depending on what the Guardians do in the off-season. I included him, but if you want a true SS under $25 median salary with more than 20 games played, you have to go a couple spots lower to Dansby Swanson, with his $12 median salary. Is he a target at $12? He probably should be, but I felt less confident in that.

As for C, the best target was fairly obvious to me (more on him below) but his role is in flux.

With that, let’s go position by position identifying one of the most interesting arbitration targets at each spot:

  • Catcher – William Contreras (ATL, Median Salary: $6) – I almost listed this as Will* Conteras, because a case could be made for Willson, as well, but let’s focus on the younger Conteras. William ended the season with 5.62 P/G, tied with JT Realmuto for second among C (big brother was first). After an up-and-down 2021, Contreras was just up-and-up in 2022. He made modest plate discipline improvements, bringing his strikeout rate down 1.5% and his walk rate up 0.1%, but had bigger strides under the hood (chase rate down from 35.6% to 30.8%, swinging strike rate down from 16.4% to 14.0%), suggesting the surface level changes could be sustainable. The increased selectivity may have also played a role in improved contact (his barrel and hard hit rates went up), supporting an increase in BABIP and HR/FB rate. Looking forward, those are positive signs. There are some concerning signals, as well. His BABIP jumped from .265 to .344 and I suspect that is not sustainable (his xwOBA being .023 lower than his wOBA backs this up). Without another change in skills, he probably takes a step back in 2023, but he has plenty of room to “step back” and still be worth well more than his $6 salary. If you are looking for optimism of a step forward the best place to look might be his launch angle, which dipped to 6.1, as he traded line drives for grounders. Fewer ground balls and more balls in the air, with his natural power and increased selectivity, could be a recipe for a(nother) breakout. I’ll gladly push his price to the low teens.
  • First Base – Paul Goldschmidt (STL, Median Salary: $26) – With apologies to Nathaniel Lowe, Christian Walker, and Vinnie Pasquantino, who are all a lot cheaper and could be good targets, as well, Goldy is a prime opportunity to remind everyone that a low salary is not a pre-requisite to be an allocation target. Goldschmidt put up the best offensive season of his career. His price isn’t low, but for a player who was the run-away top 1B in Ottoneu this year, being priced below the $40 tier is reason enough to bump up his salary. I wouldn’t bump him all the way to $40, though. Goldy will turn 36 next season. His 2022 looks like an outliar and there are some reasons to expect regression, but he really should not be left below $30 where it can be avoided.
  • Second Base – Jazz Chisholm Jr. (MIA, Median Salary: $8) – Chisholm only played 60 games this year but he posted very strong numbers in those 60 games. While there was a general downward trend in his performance after a hot start, he “finished” strong, pulling his rolling numbers way back up before an injury cut short his 2022 season. Between the abrupt, early end of his year and the softer performance in May, I suspect many managers with Chisholm on their roster are hoping he’ll slide by unnoticed in arbitration. I don’t want to let that happen. As with Goldy, I don’t think Jazz needs a big boost – he has not established himself as a $20 player for me and you can always drive his salary up beyond that mark in 2023 if he earns it. But I would not allow him to stay below double digits. If someone else in your league has already pushed Chisholm to $11 or $12, I would probably leave that be, but if he is still closer to $8, don’t let him stay there.
  • Shortstop – Andrés Giménez (CLE, Median Salary: $4) – The centerpiece of the Francisco Lindor trade put up a huge, breakout 2023 season for the Guardians (6.1 fWAR), mostly-but-not-entirely replacing Lindor’s production (6.8 fWAR) for a fraction of the cost. Same-same in Ottoneu, where Gimenez posted 5.38 P/G with a $4 median salary while Lindor posted 5.52 P/G with a $32 median salary. That Lindor salary also provides a nice upper bound on how far you want to push Gimenez. Yes, he was excellent, yes his production was almost as good, yes he has SS/2B eligibility instead of just SS, but Gimenez is still not Lindor. He wasn’t quite as good, he doesn’t have the track record, and right now that 5.38 is his peak – Lindor has shown another gear. There is one thing working in Gimenez’s favor. While he was 48th among players with 300+ PA in P/G, his P/PA was 22nd, tops among SS. Why the gap? Gimenez was buried in the Cleveland lineup, getting the majority of his PA hitting 6th or 7th and getting more PA hitting 8th or 9th (33) than 1st-4th (26). We can’t assume that will change, but he has certainly earned the right to hit in the top three. If he moves up from typically hitting 6th for Cleveland to typically hitting 2nd, that would add about a third of a PA per game, based on the number of PA Cleveland’s 2nd and 6th hitters had in 2022. Assuming no change in his P/PA, that boosts him from 5.38 P/G to 5.85 P/G. If Cleveland’s lineup gets stronger and turns over a bit more often, that could help even more. You can’t assume the lineup move or improvement, but there is enough upside here to want to boost his salary 4-5x.
  • Third Base – Austin Riley (ATL, Median Salary: $18) – This is a great example of why being cautious with allocations to a breakout player doesn’t hurt. After Riley blew up in 2021, his salary got pushed up, but not nearly high enough if you assumed he would keep producing at that level. That’s a logical decision – players often breakout and establish their career highs rather than a new baseline. If he had been pushed to $35 or $40 and taken a step back, he would be an easy cut this off-season. He did not take a step back. He posted a pretty similar season in a less-favorable offensive environment. His AVG, OBP, and SLG all went down, but his wOBA barely moved (down by .002) and his wRC+ increased from 136 to 142. His P/G actually increased from 6.33 to 6.55 thanks in large part to more extra-base hits. He had 11 fewer hits and five more walks for six fewer times on base in 31 more PA, but he had five more HR, six more doubles, and one more triple. He even stole the first two bases of his career! So should we regret not pushing his salary higher last year during arbitration? Nah, just make up for it now! If you want a target, how about $35? Among players with 300+ PA, Riley was 9th in P/G, and was surrounded by other 3B: 8th was Manny Machado, 10th was Rafael Devers, 11th was Jose Ramirez, and 13th was Nolan Arenado (Bryce Harper was 12th if you are interested). The median salaries for those 3B are $39, $35, $44, and $31. Pushing Riley all the way to $40 might be okay, but I think if you get him to $35, you’ll have done your job.

A long-time fantasy baseball veteran and one of the creators of ottoneu, Chad Young's writes for RotoGraphs and PitcherList, and can be heard on the ottobot podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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