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  • Darwin Barney, who’ll open the year as the Cubs’ starting second baseman, says his side strain is feeling fine now, and an MRI showed nothing. In his return to the lineup yesterday, he hit safely yet again (something he’s done in every Spring game in which he’s appeared). While I don’t have particularly high hopes that his offense will improve up to a league average level at second base (which would require him hitting better in the bigs than he ever did in the minors), I am hopeful that his defense at second base will continue to improve, perhaps even to an elite level. If that happens, Barney could overall become a quality starter at second base. Although defense tends to peak in a player’s mid-20s (Barney is 26), given that Barney is a career shortstop (a very good one) switching to second base, we really could see dramatic improvement in this, his second full year at the position.
  • Randy Wells pitched in a “B” game yesterday morning (doesn’t count in the standings) against the Indians, and threw three innings, allowing three hits, three walks, two runs, and striking out two. Dale Sveum wasn’t overly complimentary when discussing Wells’ outing. “You try not to put too much on it, because the conditions aren’t that well,” Sveum said. “On the other hand, you have to pitch in those same conditions in Chicago, if not worse. Wells actually was fairly sharp down in the zone. He got the outs when he needed to. [Cristian] Guzman, trying to get the guy over, hooked the ball out of the park on him. Other than that, he didn’t give up any runs. He got out of some big jams with bases-loaded ground-ball double plays. It wasn’t bad by no means.” My Volstad-beating-Wells prediction remains unchanged.
  • On Travis Wood, who was terrible yet again yesterday, Sveum was even more dour. “It looked like it was coming out of his hand better,” Sveum said. “But still, it’s not the full package, to be able to get through big league hitters using the changeup and throwing it for strikes and a breaking ball. I still don’t think his cutter is where it needs to be and where I’ve seen it before. But I thought the life was there on some pitches. Just another unfortunate outing.” When discussing the plan for Wood, Sveum said he’ll have to keep plugging away, “whether it’s a game or a Minor League game.” I think we all know what that means.
  • The back-up catcher battle is still murky, solely because of how good both Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger have looked. Sveum says both guys could be starters – not just back-ups – at the big league level. If that proves to be true in the early season, you can be sure you’ll hear a whole lot about Geovany Soto on the trade block.
  • Fluff on Steve Clevenger switching to catcher back in late 2007/early 2008.
  • Everything you ever wanted to know (and I mean *everything*) about the state of the players on the Cubs’ 40-man roster (options, service time, contract status, etc.), and the myriad MLB transactions, thanks to TCR. Seriously, this is everything, and it’s more than you ever thought was going on behind the scenes.
  • Why the 2012 Houston Astros Will Suck. We did it before with the Cincinnati Reds, and the results were awesome, so let’s do it again with the Astros. It should be easier, if nothing else. Join in.
  • The Opening Day contest ends tomorrow evening. Don’t miss your chance to (1) proclaim victory over your BN chums, and (2) win $75 to SportsWorldChicago.com (Cubs swag). Here are the details of the contest, but the gist is this: go to the BN Facebook page and “like” it; then go to this post on the BN Facebook Wall, and guess the Cubs’ Opening Day lineup (batting order and defensive positions) and rotation as of Opening Day. That’s it. The winner will be selected at random from the correct guesses.
  • The Dude Abides

    Over or under on Barney – .267 avg/ 5 HR’s/ 12 SB’s/ 450 AB’s??

    • SirCub

      Over, under, under, over. I could see Barney hitting around .280-.290 this year. And I could also see it not improving his overall value at all.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Sveum seems to want the Cubs to be more aggressive on the base paths, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Barney reach 15-20 steals.

      I’m not sure of the 450 ABs, either.

       

  • SirCub

    Those two pictures together are hilarious.

    • ShannyCub

      I definitely laughed out loud. Knew what the article was about before reading the headline.

  • daveyrosello

    What teams other than the Royals need a catcher and might be interested in trading for Soto? (Royals: Sal Perez wrenched his knee, out 2 months minimum).

    I recall reading somewhere that the Rays are unhappy with Jose Molina. Any others?

  • DocWimsey

    Hmmm, couldn’t you have used Buddy from Dinosaur Train instead?

    As for his over & under, his career minor league numbers were .287/.335/.376. So, 0.267 seems about right. HR & SB will depend heavily on the ABs (or PAs, which will be altogether too close from Barney). If he gets 450 ABs, then he might just get 5 HR, especially if it is warm this summer. (This winter certainly has been!)

    As for the stolen bases, shouldn’t we worry about net steals? I mean, for Barney to get 12 SB, he’ll probably get 6-8 CS. I’m betting on a net loss on SB from him, at any rate (i.e., worse than a 2:1 success ratio).

  • Coldneck

    Ace, what do you think we could get in return for Soto?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      As of right now (i.e., even without a hot start), he could net a couple good prospects. Even in a down year, he remains one of the better offensive catchers in the game, and he’s about average behind the plate. If he starts out well this year, those couple good prospects could become a good prospect and a very good prospect. With a hot start and health, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that the Cubs could net a top 100 prospect (back-end) in a deal for Soto.

  • baseballet

    Fangraphs says that Barney ranked 8th in WAR last season for NL second basemen. If DB can improve a little bit he should be a decent starting second baseman for a couple years. With the muscle he added in the offseason and continued improvement on defense (at a new position), I don’t think DB will be high on the Cubs’ list of problems for the next few seasons.

  • Edwin

    Right now, Barney doesn’t need to be a good NL second baseman to be valuable to the Cubs. All he has to do is produce enough excess value in comparison to what they are paying him. That is the most valuable thing about him.

    Getting excess value is an important thing. Even if Barney is below average, as long as the Cubs can save money on him, they can spend that money elsewhere. That is why a player like Travis Wood is valuable as well. The Cubs didn’t trade for Travis Wood because they thought he would be a good pitcher. He won’t be. But if he can outproduce what they are paying him, they can use that money to help sign a better player over the next several offseasons.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Grumble. Folks keep saying that, and I keep disagreeing (at least partially).

      If all you had to do to be successful was get excess value over salary at every position, a team full of below average regulars at every position who made the Major League minimum would be a good team. Except that doesn’t actually happen. That team would suck ass.

      Getting excess value is great, but just because a dude makes the minimum or close to it doesn’t mean you can be satisfied with handing him a starting spot just because his 0.2 WAR is “worth” more than the minimum. (I’m not saying that’s Barney’s value, obviously – just a hypothetical example.)

      There are only 8 defensive spots on the diamond, and you’ve got to have quality players at some of them (indeed, if you want to be competitive, at least half of them have to be better than just quality). That limitation (only 8 spots) is just as important as getting excess value. If it weren’t, Albert Pujols wouldn’t have a job.

      • Edwin

        Brett,

        I understand exactly what you mean. And I totally agree. At some point, you need good players on your team. And if a better 2B option is out there for the Cubs, they should take it.

        It is way more important to have good players rather than price efficient players. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that the “Only thing a player has to do is outproduce their contract”. I was more trying to point out that even below average players can still be valuable if they help you keep or acquire great players. It mostly depends on how wisely a team invests the money that they save.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          We agree completely – I broadened your point slightly to make my own. Wasn’t entirely fair to you. My bust.

      • Richard Nose

        Similar rationale to saying the Cubs have control of T Wood for the next 5 years. In no way am I counting him out already, but what’s it matter how long you have control of a player if he blows ass? Again, not counting Wood out. How bout this, I’ll let the Cubs control me for the next 10 years, pay me in bags of potatoes, but all they’re getting is a professional scumbag.

        • Edwin

          You’re correct. If a player is terrible, it doesn’t matter how great the contract is. They could play for free and it wouldn’t matter. Certain former Notre Dame WR’s come to mind.

          I will point out, the whole idea is that they provide “enough” excess value. In your scenario, the player (or you) isn’t providing enough excess value to be useful. And again, as Brett pointed out, I agree that this isn’t the case for every single player on the roster, just certain players or certain situations.

          To me, it’s more about expectations, and what kind of results I can be happy with. If Wood can produce about 2 WAR per season while being paid league minimum, I have no problem with him as a 5th starter. I’d like to see someone better, but if the money they save on Wood helps keep or sign a Matt Garza, it’s not such a bitter pill to swallow.

          • Richard Nose

            I’m with you. I was definitely exaggerating. Having someone that’s dirt cheap but is also servicable is huge. I’d rather have a servicable Travis Wood and Matt Cain than 2 Carlos Zambranos.

            • cubfan

              I mean Matt Cains in a totally different league, hes a player.

              • Richard Nose

                Of course, that’s the point. Edwin likes keeping cost-effective overachievers around because you can then blow some other things wide open (i.e. sign Matt Cain this offseason…that’s my personal desire).

        • Kyle

          Because there are different levels of suckiness.

          Assuming Travis Wood isn’t really broken forever and can pitch like he did in the majors in the past, he’s still a heck of a lot better than Rodrigo Lopez or Doug Davis.

          It’s easy to think “Well, we can always find someone who isn’t terrible,” but every year teams have seasons tanked by sucking black holes at various positions.

  • Kyle

    I look forward to the day when a player with Barney’s 2011 production is the weakest link in the everyday lineup.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      You must have missed the day, because I could make the argument that, by September of last year, he was there.

      • Kyle

        You can eliminate out of hand any day when Soriano, Colvin or Johnson started in the outfield, or when Koyie Hill got the start at catcher.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          If you’re just looking for one day, I can find it. If you’re looking for a period of time where, overall, second base was the weakest link in the lineup, primarily because of Barney’s inclusion there, I can find you at least a month. Probably more.

          • Kyle

            I said “2011 Barney” as a way to try to imply that I was talking about his overall season, not individual streaks and slumps. A team with a .660 OPS 2b with good defense as their worst position is in great shape.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              …clearly they aren’t. Because that was the case for the terrible 2011 Chicago Cubs.

              (We can do this dance all day.)

              • Kyle

                We sure can :)

                Because you can’t, with a straight face, say that the total 2011 value for the Chicago Cubs from 2b was the worst position on the team.

                Even if we ignore defense and position adjustments entirely, and just go with straight OPS+, we were worse off in LF, RF and C.

                • SirCub

                  Sike. Soriano, Fukudome, and Soto were all better than Barney. Whatchu smokin?

                  • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                    Yeah, I feel like I’m missing something…

                  • Kyle

                    2011 Cubs offense by position:

                    Catcher: .217 .295 .367
                    Left field: .248 .294 .448
                    Right field: .262 .332 .392
                    Darwin Barney: .276 .313 .353

                    Only RF was clearly better.

                    • Spencer

                      Catcher looks like the only position weaker to me. LF’s slugging was almost .100 points higher – that’s huge.

                    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                      You’re comparing one player to other overall positions (not that it necessarily unfairly helps you, but it’s odd). Barney was the starting second baseman. Geovany Soto was the starting catcher. Alfonso Soriano was the starting left fielder. Compare them, and that’s the real way you measure the “weak link” in the regular lineup.

                      But you already know the way this exercise plays out. You’re better off making the positional adjustment + defense argument, because I suspect it’s there that you’d find some meat.

                    • DocWimsey

                      Here they are in OPS:
                      LF: 0.742
                      RF: 0.724
                      DB: 0.666
                      C: 0.663

                      So, Barney and the catchers were essentially identical, and the two corner positions created substantially more runs per PA.

                      However, even that is the wrong way to look at it. Winning teams have better net OPS than losing teams. A partial correlate of net OPS is how much better you do at each position than league average.

                      LF +0.015
                      C -0.037
                      DB -0.042
                      RF -0.058

                      So, RF was the biggest sinkhole whereas the Cubs had a slight positive in LF (much though many people refuse to see it!). As you can see, Barney did a lot to make 2B just as big a problem as RF.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          (And damn you for making me shred Barney in the comments to a post where I’m trying to express hopefulness about Barney. :))

          • Crockett

            These Barney lovers kill me. They apparently love bad baseball.

            • DocWimsey

              To an extent, it is an argument between two schools of thought about what good baseball is. According to the “Gene Mauch” version of baseball, Barney is a great player. According to the “Earl Weaver” version of baseball, Barney is not a good player.

              • Kyle

                It’s really not, in my case. I am very much of the same school of baseball as you.

                I don’t even think Darwin Barney is particularly good. I just think his 2011 season is being severely underrated by some people, mostly because they are stuck on PED-era offensive ideals and haven’t caught up to the current state of MLB, where a .670 OPS from a 2b is pretty close to league average.

                I’m not convinced he can keep up his 2011 totals in 2012, but if he does, he remains a useful starter.

                • DocWimsey

                  Actually, MLB average OPS was 0.708 for 2nd basemen. That is a lot more run creation than 0.660-0.670, and much more than any mitt can alleviate. The PED part is (in my opinion) a red-herring: a big part of the change was a shift towards favoring “aggressively selective” hitters over “contact” hitters, and also a greater willingness to stick big(ger) guys in the middle infield and CF.

                  Remember, Weaver was able to stick good OPS guys in these positions long before too many guys (other than Earl) understood the basic concept, and long before PEDs were a big factor.

                  • Kyle

                    Regardless of why you think offense spiked, it is undeniable that it went down significantly in recent years.

                    And if you think 50 points of OPS overwhelm any amount of defense, then I’m afraid you are just incorrect.

                    For convenience’s sake, we’ll call it 20 points of OBP and 30 points of slugging.

                    Over 600 PAs, that mounts to 12 extra times on base and 6 additional extra bases. Using linear weights to convert that to runs, a 50 point jump in OPS is the equivalent of roughly 7-8 runs per season.

                    Fangraphs has Barney’s defense at +6.1 runs above average last year, nearly closing the gap entirely.

                    All he needs is a couple of nice baserunning plays on top of it, and he’s wiped it out completely.

                    If Barney can maintain his 2011 offensive levels, he’s going to be very close to a league-average player. The problem is, he probably can’t maintain those offensive levels.

  • BeyondFukudome

    Brett:

    I don’t think Darwin Barney has done anything bad enough to deserve being associated with that purple dinosaur. Besides, I hear the dinosaur’s owner is litigious. How about a nice picture of Barney Rubble instead?

  • Kevin

    Why should the Cubs trade Soto? If the current roster all have career years then we’re in the playoffs

  • Dick

    The Cubs last year played 0.500 ball with Koyie Hill starting last year and ~0.360 ball with Soto starting. The Cubs have had a worse record with Soto starting every year since his rookie year, although last year was the widest variation. They have two good replacements in Clevenger and Castillo, and Soto has value to teams that don’t look at his statistics. Simple….Soto should have been the first guy out the door this winter.

    I don’t understand all the Barney bashing. He is a competent player, who is likely to get better this year. His stats get knocked down by doing things like advancing runners to 3rd with no outs, etc. He had a bad streak in the 2nd half of the year which is unlikely to reoccur. Lighten up, guys!

    • DocWimsey

      Last year’s winning pcts. by catcher are indistinguishable from the Cubs overall winning percentage: it’s just sample size.

      As for Barney, it’s the other way around: he had a “lucky” 6 weeks to start the season that basically matched what we expect one of his batch of 6 weeks to be. And, again, this is something that people have to understand: grounding out to advance runners to 3rd base is BAD BASEBALL. It doesn’t just hurt Barney’s stats: it decreases run-scoring. You never see hi-5′s in the Boston dugout when a guy does this: hopefully, it will stop in the Cubs’ dugout, too.

  • Cubbies4Life

    Okay, has everyone forgotten about Barney Fife? That upstanding defender of the Mayberry Way? If he were here, I’d ask him to put his single bullet in his gun and shoot a Darwin basher in the foot! (He can’t shoot every one of you because…well… just the one bullet). I’m with Dick (oooh, THAT sounds intriguing!) – give DB some slack! And I don’t want to see Soto traded – my jersey would become moot!

  • rbreeze

    We have bigger problems then Barney at second. We need production from the corners in the infield and outfield. Barney will get his chance this season to prove to Dale and Theo and Jed whether he belongs as a starter or not.  If we get production from the corners, then we can carry a Barney that hits .270-.275 ish.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      This is another common response with which I take issue: “we have bigger problems than X.” The implication, apparently, is that it isn’t worth worrying about X, because the Cubs have bigger problems than X.

      I’d like to think we can concern ourselves with all of the Cubs’ problems, not just the biggest ones – I’m certainly hoping the Cubs’ front office does.

      • Kyle

        Of course. But there’s a big difference between a 1.5-2 WAR problem (Barney) and, for example, a negative WAR problem like the back of our starting rotation.

  • rocky8263

    I’m sure Theo and Jed are running the show but T.R. loves Barney. In two conversations I had with Tom at K Woods events He brought up Darwin and said his style of play will make the Cubs a winner. Teachers pet? Maybe, probably. My guess is as long as he bats his weight he’s a keeper. Or maybe he was just messing with me.

  • rbreeze

    If we can find the next Ryne Sandberg to play second then I’m all for it.  I’m sure Theo and the boys are looking to improve at every position with every move they make.  But for now it looks like Barney is it.

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