Luis Valbuena, 28, who made all but three of his starts last year at third base, has been playing exclusively at second base this Winter in Venezuela, and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said that is intentional, rather than just the VWL club doing its thing.
“We want him to be versatile, and he is versatile,” Hoyer told media in Orlando, including Cubs.com.* “[Darwin] Barney can play shortstop, Valbuena can play some shortstop, Donnie Murphy can play some shortstop. We have a really versatile infield, and that’s a great thing. We may not have to carry a standard utility guy and can mix and match in different ways.”
It would be naive to not assume that the Cubs are trying to make sure they’ve got all of their bases covered (heh) in case there was some roster shifting this offseason – if Starlin Castro were dealt, and Darwin Barney had to take over at shortstop; if Barney were dealt, and Valbuena had to play primarily at second base. Having Valbuena ready to go at second base “just in case” provides cover for the front office to do whatever they want (including shopping Valbuena to the market as a second baseman or a third baseman) and not have to rush a youngster into starting duty at the big league level.
Presently, Valbuena is hitting .338/.427/.506 in 20 games in Venezuela, which is obviously impressive, even in a league that appears to be fairly offensively friendly this year. He’ll make something in the $1.5 million range in 2014 in his second go-around in arbitration (he’s a Super Two), so a little bit of bat and a little bit of infield versatility, and Valbuena remains a valuable bench bat. If he’s forced into being something more than that, well, I guess we’ll just see what happens.
*(See the Cubs.com piece for more on Barney’s upcoming “big” season.)