Seattle spent big at second, but you shouldn't need to do the same (USAT Sports Images)
The middle is a minefield, at least in the opening rounds. Nearly every upper-tier shortstop and second baseman has a red flag attached.
With Hanley, Tulo and Reyes, it's injury history. Those three appeared in just 86, 126 and 93 games last season. With Cano, it's his new team context — different park, sketchy lineup. With Kipnis, it's back-to-back second-half slumps. With Carpenter, it's a relative lack of power or speed; if he's not scoring a zillion runs, he's nothing special. With Kinsler, it's age, health and declining speed.
[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Essentially, we can find issues with all the high-priced middle infielders. Several of these guys will fly off the board early in your draft, because the position-scarcity zealots are everywhere. But these spots also present us with a risk/reward dilemma. And really, the rewards were fairly modest last year.
No middle infielder reached the 30-homer plateau last season, and only seven managed to hit as many as 20 (and one of those seven was Dan Uggla, who was otherwise terrible). Carpenter was the only middle to score more than 100 runs in 2013, and just three others exceeded 90. Only two middles finished with 90 or more RBIs (Cano, Phillips).
So the general population of shortstops and second basemen was not exactly a buffet of fantasy stats in 2013.
Various middle infielders were assets in stolen bases last season, however, as two swiped 40-plus (Andrus, Segura) and a third would have done so, were it not for his Biogenesis entanglement (Everth). Eleven middles topped 20 steals, and seven others finished with at least 15 (including Jonathan Villar, who swiped 18 bags in just 58 games). That's something.
Beyond the top tiers at short and second, you'll find an abundance of 12/14 types — players who should produce tolerable-if-not-spectacular power/speed totals (Lawrie, Prado, Kendrick, Miller, Dozier, et al). Also, it seems entirely possible that the mid-rounds will produce the players who lead all middle infielders in homers and steals in 2014. Jedd Gyorko and JJ Hardy offer clear 25-30 home run upside, and both are going beyond pick No. 150 in early Yahoo drafts. Cabrera and Villar each have 50-steal potential, yet those two are typically selected outside the first 10 rounds.
Basically, what I'm saying is this: Middle infield is a scary place to invest multiple early picks and/or a pile of auction dollars. For me, there are no $30 middles this season. I'll be content to take whatever falls to me in Rounds 8-15, or in the $9-14 price range.
For the benefit of A.L./N.L.-only owners, we should note that talent is not perfectly balanced between the leagues at short and second. Four of the consensus top-five shortstops play in the National League, and seven of our top-nine second baseman are employed in the junior circuit. When that sort of situation exists, the scarcity crowd often pays crazy prices for uninteresting players. Don't be the guy who falls into a bidding war for, say, Alexei Ramirez or Neil Walker.
The worst thing a team owner can do — both in fantasy and reality — is to overspend for mediocrity.
Position averages for the top-20 fantasy second basemen, last three years
2013 – 73.2 R, 13.8 HR, 68.0 RBIs, 11.1 SB, .281 AVG
2012 – 79.1 R, 16.1 HR, 70.4 RBIs, 13.7 SB, .275 AVG
2011 – 78.6 R, 16.7 HR, 68.9 RBI, 14.4 SB, .274 AVG
Position averages for the top-20 fantasy shortstops, last three years
2013 – 67.5 R, 12.5 HR, 58.8 RBIs, 14.2 SB, .274 AVG
2012 – 74.9 R, 14.2 HR, 63.3 RBIs, 18.9 SB, .271 AVG
2011 – 74.9 R, 12.3 HR, 61.3 RBIs, 17.8 SB, .280 AVG