A look at the Diamondbacks 2022 Small Arbitration Class
By Jake Oliver
Carson Kelly, Diamondbacks Catcher
The franchise catcher, or at least that’s what he’s setting himself up to be if he keeps playing as good as he has been. Carson debuted in the Majors with a cup of coffee in 2016. He continued to play sparingly in the Majors due to being blocked by Yadier Molina until he was dealt to the Dbacks in the Goldy trade before the 2019 season. In 2019, he got his first official full-season of work in the MLB.
He started off hot but faded down the stretch as he played in the most games in his career that year. In 2020, he struggled as did the rest of the offense. He still managed to hit better than the average MLB catcher though with a 73 OPS+. In 2021, his bat fully took off until, as like with the rest of the roster, the injury bug bit Kelly. From Opening Day to May 13th, Kelly had 4 doubles, 6 HRs, 19 RBIs, 23 walks, 16 K’s, and a .331 batting average.
Then, he broke his toe, came back for a month, and broke his wrist. From May 25th to the end of season, after missing multiple weeks due to those two ailments, Kelly struggled to a .205, .277, .339 batting line with 7 doubles, 7 HRs, 27 RBIs, and 21/58 walks/K’s. It’s apparent that he was struggling a lot post-injury.
Due to that dreadful finish, his overall batting line for the season was .240, .343, .411, .754, 104 OPS+ (way better than the average 49 OPS+ for a catcher), 11 doubles, 1 triple, 13 HRs, 46 RBIs, 44 walks, and 74 K’s. Overall, it was a rather good year for Carson that he can easily use to launch him into his prime years next year. After all, he’s only going to be 27next year. He still was worth 2.2 WAR, 1.8 offensive WAR, and caught base-stealers 23% of the time. We did name him Most Improved Player this year!
Due to his limited playing time early on in his career and the fact that he’s a Super 2 player, this will be his 2nd year of arbitration. Matt is projecting Carson to get roughly 3.0 MM dollars this go-round. Last year, he avoided arbitration with the Diamondbacks after signing for a 1.7 MM dollar deal. He’s under team control through 2024 as he will still have to go through two more trips of arbitration if he doesn’t sign an extension or the new CBA doesn’t change anything. With another successful year next year, his cost will rise a lot higher. It’s worth it though, and yes the team will offer Kelly a contract.
Caleb Smith, Diamondbacks RP/SP
Caleb Smith has been a mixed bag for the team so far. It’s been a roller-coaster ride for him, the team, and the fans. Originally acquired in 2020, from the Marlins, in the Starling Marte trade, he’s filled a few roles for the team. He has appeared as a SP, Long-reliver, Set-Up, and Match-up specialist out of the bullpen. Suffice to say, he’s best suited for coming out of the bullpen, despite the hit to the wallet it will cost him. Why? Well, I’ll discuss below.
Last off-season Caleb Smith agreed to a 1.465 MM dollar contract to avoid arbitration. This was that low due to his history of injuries, high-ERAs, high-HR rate, and high-walk rate. Entering into this year he had struggled pitching deep into games as a power-lefty SP who had the talent to strike out batters with ease, but also a penchant for walks and homers. Robbie Ray anyone? Alas, this year proved to be more of the same, except with a twist.
While he did start the year as a starter, he ended up moving to the bullpen. Then, he went back to the rotation, only to end up back in the bullpen. This attributed to the fact he pitched in 45 games, started 13 of them, and finished 4 of them. He still pitched 113.2 innings.
He struggled immensely starting games, giving up hard and loud contact, walks, and just did not seem like a pitcher that was meant to start. His pitching speed would lessen while starting too. Then, when he started coming out of the bullpen, he pulled an Archie Bradley. He started pumping strikeouts, strikes in general, limiting contact, pitching multiple innings, and just being a left-handed bullpen ace.
This is shown when you look at his bullpen numbers: 3-1, 2.70 ERA, 32 games, 56.2 innings, 17 ERs, 6 HRs, 23 walks, 59 K’s, 1.147 WHIP, and a Opponent .615 OPS+. Those are amazing numbers and he needs to strictly be coming out of the bullpen and be our lefty-bullpen ace.
Due to his overall season numbers of 4-9, 45 games, 113.2 innings, 93 hits, 20 HRs, 63 walks, 124 K’s, 4.83 ERA, and 5.10 FIP, he’s unlikely to see much of a raise over his previous contract. Matt only predicts Caleb to get around 2.1 MM dollars for the 2022 season. Hopefully the team can come to terms before it goes to court as Caleb is scheduled for another go-round with arbitration next-off-season for the final. He’s under team control through 2023. Definitely expect the team to offer him a contract.
Christian Walker, Diamondbacks 1B
The man who was tasked with replacing Paul Goldschmidt entering the 2019 season had a rough 2021 season. He did great in 2019 and 2020 hitting 29/7 HRs and 73/34 RBIs respectively. He showcased great patience at the plate, power, clutch hitting, and excellent fielding. He had a long path to the Majors after being drafted in 2012. He was forced to sit behind Chris Davis, Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, and Paul Goldschimdt until he finally got his chance. He was handed the full-time first base gig as a 28-year old rookie. His perseverance paid off at least.
Now, he’s set to go through arbitration for the first time as a 30-year old. That’s IF the team offers him a contract, which is by no means a sure thing. He struggled with injuries all season, especially with an oblique strain that clearly affected his swing and batting. It’s no wonder then as to why he struggled.
Now, in the throws of a mini-rebuild in which the team wants to get younger and allow it’s young players to play more, Walker could find himself as the odd-man out. Of course, this is yet to be determined due to we don’t know what the Dbacks plan to do with Pavin Smith and Seth Beer. If the team feels that Seth needs to go back to the minors to start the year, and they like Pavin in right field, then Walker could get his job back.
And/or he could be a powerful bench bat to sell at the deadline. Either way, it’s an uphill battle for Walker to reclaim the starting first basemen’s job without a great spring. Of course, it’s not as if money is a worry as entering arbitration for the first time will limit how much he will get.
I hope Christian is brought back, especially if the DH is in the NL next year. He’s a great hitter, fielder, and teammate. He’s proven his power and worth. Additionally, it makes sense for the team to try to trade him his next deadline too. 2021 sucked for nearly the whole team, and at least for Walker, there’s a reason as to why. He hit .244, .315, .382, .696, 88 OPS+, 23 doubles, 1 triple,10 HRs, 46 RBIs, 38 walks, and 106 K’s.
Despite those obvious struggles, he was still a 0.6 WAR player. He’s projected to get 2.7 MM dollars due to his 71 doubles, 52 HRs, 162 RBIs, and 102 OPS+ in his career so far. That’s not an obscene amount, even for the “cheaper” Ken Kendrick. I’d expect him to get a contract. He’s under team control through 2024, if he’s offered a contract this winter.
May the Force be with You…