It’s no secret that, offensively, second base was a black hole for the Chicago Cubs in 2013.
It should be no surprise, then, that when Sports Illustrated came up with the “worst positions in baseball” for each league, the Cubs claimed the title at second base in the National League. Last year, Darwin Barney played stellar defense (and should have won a second consecutive Gold Glove), but hit just .208/.266/.303. With all appropriate love to Barney for his grit and defense and what-have-you, he is not the long-term answer at second base. At 28 and entering arbitration, Barney might not align with the core timing-wise, even if you could get over the offensive deficiency.
So, what’s the solution? Well, all things considered, the best approach might be … to do nothing.
Consider that the Cubs have an imminent influx of infield talent on the way, primarily in the form of Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, joining mainstays Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. While you never expect with 100% certainty that a prospect will come up and dominate a position for years, it is fair to project that Baez and Bryant could be starters in the big league come 2015. And that is to say nothing of Arismendy Alcantara, Christian Villanueva, and Logan Watkins, each of whom could factor into the infield in the near-term.
Against that backdrop, there wouldn’t seem to be a lot of sense in going outside the organization to find a second baseman – at least not one who was under contract for more than a year. You aren’t going to find a great one-year option in free agency (and, even if you could … would you really want to displace Barney for a year for a marginal upgrade?), and it would be silly to trade prospects for a one-year second base buffer.
That’s why it might just make the most sense to let Barney hold the position going into 2014, offense be damned. If the Cubs don’t project to be competitive in 2014 – by which I mean, if they don’t make significant upgrades all over the field – they might as well ride Barney out, hope for a bounce-back, and then try to deal him midseason. Sure, they might net an additional half-win by playing a Luis Valbuena/Donnie Murphy platoon there (assuming Mike Olt can play third), but that might not be the best move long-term (assuming 2014 is all about the continued long-term focus).
Although Barney’s line from 2013 looks horrendous, keep in mind: his walk rate (6.5%) was the best of his career, his ISO (.096) was slightly better than his career mark, and his BABIP (.222) was more than 50 points below his career average entering the year. Even with mere positive regression, you could expect to see a .250/.310/.350 line from him next year. Good? No. Movable in trade? If he keeps up the Gold Glove defense, it’s possible.
Barring a fundamental shift either in the Cubs’ presumed offseason approach this year, or in the expected ability of some other second base option presently available to the Cubs, I’m not sure I see a clearly better option than just letting Barney start the year at second base, and see what happens.