luis valbuena cubsLuis Valbuena is playing well this Spring, making for an interesting infield discussion now that Mike Olt has emerged as a legitimate option at third base. Valbuena could be relegated to a utility role, where he would split time between third and second base (the latter of which is where he played this Winter and where he tells Cubs.com he’s more comfortable), or the Cubs could try to figure out a way to carve out a starting or platoon spot for him.

Defensively, the numbers say he’s fantastic at third and not-quite-average at second, but there’s not a ton of data. To my eye, Valbuena looked pretty good at third the last two years, and, as the left-handed side of a platoon, there’s little reason to believe he couldn’t be great at third again this year.

That said, because Mike Olt has quite a bit more upside, and because Olt has the potential to be just as good defensively, better offensively, and an every-day player, you have to give the edge to him, all other things equal. And, really, all other things aren’t equal: Valbuena has the versatility to move to other prominent defensive positions, and Olt does not. Valbuena is also in his second year of arbitration, whereas Olt still has a few years before his pay scale starts climbing.

At second base, Valbuena’s bat would be an upgrade over Darwin Barney’s, but the gloves aren’t in the same ballpark. And, with Barney, there are reasons to believe he’ll see some positive regression at the plate this year. If he gets his offensive numbers up just a little bit this year, Barney’s a guy who could have quite a bit of trade value midseason, particularly if there are teams out there in need of a shortstop. Valbuena, unless he his extremely well, probably doesn’t have quite the same trade value upside.

If the Cubs wind up in a situation where Mike Olt is the “starter” at third base, and Darwin Barney is the “starter” at second, Rick Renteria is going to have a hell of a time rotating Valbuena into the mix regularly. Why? Because he’s already got to do that with Emilio Bonifacio.

Either someone’s going to wind up sitting a lot more this year than they did last year if Olt makes the team, or there’s going to be a trade. And we haven’t even addressed what will happen with Donnie Murphy, who could suddenly be without a roster spot altogether.

The good news, if the Cubs opt not to go the trade route, having a couple bench pieces like Valbuena and Bonifacio is outstanding.

  • runningflannel

    What an excellent problem to have.

  • Patrick G

    I think Barney will have a better season at the play. Before last year, he averaged a .265 average and think last year was just an off year. If he can hit even .250, he and Valbuena could be a nice platoon at 2b

    • The Real Wrigley

      Remember, it’s unsafe to equate a good average with being a good hitter, around this forum. You’ll catch hell for it.

      • roz

        Well if that’s not a complete misrepresentation of the relative values of BA and OBP, I don’t know what is.

  • LEO L

    Mike Olt will start at AAA.

    • bwin

      Mike Olt’s nickname should be Domino. If he makes it at third many, many decisions are to be made.

      • Funn Dave

        Haha yeah that’s fitting.

    • Javier Bryant

      Why’s that?

      • Javier Bryant

        In reply to him starting at Triple A

  • TommyK

    The Cubs may actually have a Major League quality infield this season. There’s still the issue of the outfield, however.

  • Diehardthefirst

    You are assuming Castro is an every day player- given last year I would drop him a notch and create a rotation to keep all on their toes and hungry- Rizzo, Murphy and Olt at 1B, Olt, Valbuena and Murphy 3B, Castro, Emilio, Barney and Murphy SS, Barney, Valbuena Emilio and Murphy 2B- at least until Baez is ready

    • jadebuddha

      This could be one of the silliest things I have read. You don’t rotate Castro, Rizzo and Olt (if he’s hitting) because these are the guys that could/should be average to all-star major leaguers. Hopefully average players in Murphy, Valbuena, Barney and Bonifacio should not be getting regular to semi-regular at bats over them. Rizzo and Castro will bounce back and taking ABs from them just stunts that. Your future should hopefully be Rizzo/Castro/Olt and that is where the at bats should go.

      • Spoda17

        I agree Jade… platoons only work when both players are below average. Platooning Rizzo and Castro… mind-blowing…

        • DocPeterWimsey

          That isn’t entirely true. If you have a RHB who is good against RHP and mashes LHP and a LHB who is good against LHP and mashes RHP, then you actually would do better to platoon them (and thus get mashing against both RHP and LHP), at least insofar as production from that one position is concerned.

          Of course, the obvious caveat on this is that no team is so overflowing in talent that you wouldn’t improve the team by moving one of these two to a different position *unless* both players were incapable of playing another position well. In that case, you probably can improve the team by trading one of them!

          None of this detracts in the slightest from the real point: the “college of position players” is a really bad idea.

          • Funn Dave

            Yeah, platooning awesome players would give you a really awesome team–and be incredibly expensive and wasteful. And very likely be detrimental to development.

            • DocPeterWimsey

              You are correct, although I was thinking entirely in terms of “win now” reasons for platooning two good players. Of course, most players are pretty much done by 25 or so: but, then, several of the guys on this list are under 25!

              • DocPeterWimsey

                “done” = “done developing,” that is: they keep going as ballplayers for quite a while.

                • Funn Dave

                  Haha, I was gonna say–I know people on this board hate aging ballplayers, but a 26yo cutoff is a bit overboard!

                  • DocPeterWimsey

                    It’s just statistical pattern: few guys change appreciably after they are 25 or so, at least until “old age” hits them. That is not to say that a 27-year old is aging: instead, it’s to say that he’s probably plateauing, and he probably has been for a little while.

          • bnile1

            Epicenter of this discussion is a false equivalency that is then stated as the basis for a “solution to a problem”. Let’s start with a little review.
            Castro is a 2 time all-star SS
            Barney is a gold glove 2b
            Olt is a former top 40 prospect and has the Potential to be a middle of the order bat (which the Cubs have few of right now).
            Bonifacio was signed off the street to a minor league deal as a utility player.
            Murphy was signed off the street and has roughly 2 months or reasonably effective play at 3rd.
            Valbuena is a pretty decent left handed platoon partner or utility infielder.
            With that established the distribution of at bats is pretty clear. IF Castro Barney and Olt are healthy and playing well then they get the AB, the others are there if case that doesn’t happen. Bottom line

        • http://www.teamfums.org MichiganGoat

          Guys it’s die hard silly is to low a word for his satire, sit back and enjoy the show.

          • Funn Dave

            Ah dammit, I didnt see that it was Die Hard. He got me.

      • JeffR

        Not to mention, that’s too many infielders to have on the 25 man roster. I know Bonifacio can play outfield but still.

        • Diehardthefirst

          Win with what you got – not with what you wish you had- Mgr Rick is known for platooning to strength and my guess even HOF wannabes like Castro Rizzo and Olt will learn to use a tweaser

          • gocatsgo2003

            Mgr Rick isn’t known for anything because he’s never been a manager before.

            • Diehardthefirst

              Uhhhh- how about many years south of the border?

              • DarthHater

                Aside from managing the Mexican national team in one international tournament, what managing did he do for many years south of the border?

                • Diehardthefirst

                  Minor leagues slang

                  • gocatsgo2003

                    No it’s not.

            • Diehardthefirst

              Check his mgr career in minors and you will see his philosophy and also that was the type of player he was

              • DarthHater

                “that was the type of player he was”

                He platooned himself as a player?!?!?

                • Diehardthefirst

                  He thrived

              • gocatsgo2003

                You really expect me to believe you know about Renteria’s substitution patterns as a minor league manager?

                • Diehardthefirst

                  Shhh- don’t confess to not knowing what everyone else does

                  • gocatsgo2003

                    Ok. Give me one single article on the internet where his substitution patterns are discussed.

    • DarthHater


  • Bill

    I really don’t see the problem here. Barney can’t hit his weight, so I don’t care if he’s got a great glove. Play Olt at 3rd and platoon Valbuena and Barney at 2B. Valbuena not only is a better hitter, more power, he gets on base a lot more than Barney. He actually makes a pitcher work to throw strikes rather than swinging at the first pitch.

  • Diehardthefirst

    You guys wouldn’t know a superstar if he sat on your front porch- Rizzo and Castro are avg ballplayerd and Olt is unproven rookie- platoon them all until a superstar emerges LOL with this IF group

    • gocatsgo2003

      And how exactly would a superstar emerge if they’re getting inconsistent at-bats?

    • jadebuddha

      If Rizzo and Castro are average then the people you want to take away their ABs for are well below average. Rizzo and Castro maybe “average” but they have the potential to be much more, unlike Barney, Bonifacio, Valbuena and Murphy.

  • Diehardthefirst

    4 avg IF having 600 mediocre AB or 7 having 350 decent AB based on being well rested and pitchers not able to get good book on them? Also builds team morale knowing everyone plays and no Prima Donnas

    • jadebuddha

      I can’t tell if you don’t watch baseball or are just trolling :/

      • JadeBos

        Diehard has transcended trolling.

      • Diehardthefirst

        I have forgotten more games watched or listened to than you or most on this board have watched or listened to by far

        • http://www.teamfums.org MichiganGoat

          Sadly when die hard get aggressive and upset his satire just disappears, but when he just post on comment and never responds it satirical gold.

          • Diehardthefirst

            Upset? Not even 2 on the dial

            • http://www.teamfums.org MichiganGoat

              Your satire is dead the second you reply and yes you are, you only reply when you get frustrated.

  • ssckelley

    I am not worried about Valbuena, he is a back up infielder on a good team. Since he bats lefthanded and can play about anywhere he will have no trouble getting playing time.

    • Orval Overall

      strictly speaking, right now Valbuena is a back up infielder on a bad team.

      • ssckelley

        But I am hoping the team is a little better with Olt at third and Valbuena coming off the bench. I was not suggesting the Cubs are a good team yet.

  • Dustin S

    The problem with Barney is the same as it’s been which is that the Cubs lineup just isn’t strong enough to carry Barney’s bat for the sake of his glove. There are other teams that could though, so for both his and the Cubs’ sake he’d be a better fit right now on another team. His trade value is going to be minimal either way. On a stronger roster Barney would be on the bubble for even making the team out of ST. About the only way I see Barney ending the year on the roster is if the Cubs think he’s worth keeping to mentor Baez defensively once he’s up (if all goes well) around mid-season.

    My impression from RR this spring already is that he’s going to go with the lineup that gives the best chance to win over extraneous things like building trade value for guys like Barney, at least as much as he can get away with. We’ll see how that changes over the course of the year though…

    • JasonP

      I hear this argument all the time, mostly about Barney, but “so and so” is a great fielder but can only be valuable in a potent lineup, i.e. “Cubs lineup isn’t strong enough to carry Barney’s bat for the sake of his glove.”

      To my approximation, the game is about scoring more runs than the other guy. If Barney saves x runs in the field compared to whoever you replace him with but that guy adds y runs compared to Barney at the plate, then if x > y Barney plays, and if y < x then whoever else plays. I just don't buy that the relative value of Barney changes drastically based on the lineup he's in. The quality of the lineup, of course, dictates how good that team is. So, yes, Barney (or anyone) can be a winning/championship player if they're in a lineup with Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutcheon etc. and he's going to be a losing player in a lineup that features Junior Lake, Anthony Rizzo, Ryan Sweeney, Wellington Castillo etc.

      Can one of the SABER geeks explain to me how I'm wrong or not?

      • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

        The jist is right. If Barney saves 40 runs in the field and generates 10 runs less (than average for both), then he is no different than a 2B that saves 10 runs less and generates 40 runs more at the plate than average.

        However, with the increase in K rates, fewer plays are being made in the field so it is harder to get to those 40 runs saved.

  • Funn Dave

    Great article.

  • Funn Dave

    “And we haven’t even addressed what will happen with Donnie Murphy, who could suddenly be without a roster spot altogether.”

    Yeah, I’m more than okay with that.

    • Diehardthefirst

      You don’t think he can contribute 300 decent AB?

      • Funn Dave

        I don’t see a reason for him to do so.

  • Serious Cubs Fan

    I would start Valbuena at 3rd and send Olt down to the minors till midseason and then trade either Barney or Valbuena and bring Olt up to start at 3rd midseason. I know olts already 25 but this would allow us to maximize valbuena and Barney’s trade value and I nice little pirk would also be saving some arb clock for Olt. It would cause a log jam at 3rd base in the minors with Villanueva needing to start at the minors but that shouldn’t be a problem because he’d still be tested at AA vs. very good pitching. We also could have Villanueva play around the field at AA to add added value by learning to 2nd. Villanueva’s a Plus 3rd base defender but if he could play a solid 2nd base also it would increase his value. Jeimer Candelario start the season at Daytona

  • diamonddon

    Trade Valbuena for some young pitching and release Murphy. Start Barney at 2nd and Olt at 3rd. Bonefacio can back up at 2nd and 3rd.

    • BlackJeep

      I like Valbuena and he may find himself traded at some point, but not sure it’ll be until after this season. I don’t think he’ll bring back much in the way of impact pitching when that happens unless he somehow hits 25HR this year. He’s got more pop than Bonifacio but its just not going to happen. I think Olt gets the job at 3rd and hits .240ish with 20 or so homeruns. I think Murphy gets released during the season and Barney get traded for peanuts or as a side piece on a bigger deal. If Valbuena plays well the first half… I dont ‘ think his trade value will be higher all year because he’s likely sit more in the second half when Baez comes up. Tough call on what to do with him, but I think its likely he’s just a good bench piece for the rest of the season come June.

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  • dunston donuts

    Understanding how Olt can handle third is important this year. If Olt can play third at a high level then the dominos start to fall. At the major league level Valbuena, Murphy and Bonifacio become depth or trade bait. At the minor league level Bryant starts playing some OF.

    I would think the FO would love to see Olt succeed at third. That would set up the infield to be Olt, Castro, Baez and Rizzo. They could develop Bryant for corner outfield and have a future OF of Bryant, Almora and Soler. If Olt doesn’t take the third base job then they keep Bryant for third and need another outfielder.

    • Head and Heart

      Or Baez slides to third. Villanueva or Alcantara plays second and Bryant still moves to the OF. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter. It’ll just be nice to have too many good players to fit on the field rather than the current situation of having no where near enough.

      • Bill

        Yes, except I’m not sure the combined WAR value of Baez/Villanueva or Alcantara is as high as Baez/Olt. If Olt’s vision problems are corrected and he can provide a decent OBP, he will hit for much more power than Villanueva or Alcantara would. So, with Baez you’d be getting much greater production from 2B and Olt would be providing league avg or slightly better at 3B.

        I think Alcantara’s bat would would figure better in CF. Villanueva could be an option at 3B if Olt flops, and Bryant isn’t yet ready for Chi. He would likely be a placeholder until Bryant arrived.

        It’s kind of fun to imagine the possible combinations of who could make it and where they might play. I really hope Olt makes it because that opens up a world of opportunities for the Cubs, including maybe trading one of these better prospects for pitching.

        • Head and Heart

          I literally don’t care who makes it and where as long as in a couple years the Cubs have above average players at every position.

          • Bill

            So, in the words of Al Davis, “Just win, baby”.

            • Head and Heart

              “Just produce lots of big league talent year after year so that the team is consistently excellent, baby.”

  • Assman22

    Cubs/Rangers indeed discussed several trade scenarios this weekend…middle infielders, bullpen, and SP…Cubs again find Rangers in a predicament…

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      So at what point do Theo and Jed get docked in the rebuild for just taking over the Rangers’ farm system?

      I hope the Rangers never learn.

      • Bill

        Hey, it’s not to finally be the team that fleeces someone rather than be on the receiving end of a fleece job. :-)

        Have the Cubs ever received even a decent MLB player in trade with the Yankees? Hopefully, Corey Black can be a contributing MLB player.

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  • Noah_I

    I think there’s a significant overstatement of Barney’s potential trade value in this piece if he has a BABIP regression back to the mean. He still provides extremely little offensive value, and I don’t think you’re getting anything more for Barney than a C- prospect in the low minors. Yes, the Tigers gave up a significant amount for Jose Iglesias, but Iglesias has a lot more team control remaining, and Iglesias is considered a significantly higher ceiling glove at shortstop than Barney.

    I think it should also be noted that Valbuena is also due for a significant BABIP regression, since his BABIP was only .233 last season. If Valbuena can retain his other rate stats and raise his BABIP even to .260 (his 2012 number in the Majors), he could be a .240/.350/.400 type hitter at 2B.

    I’d platoon Valbuena and Barney at 2B. If Barney happens to get hot you can run with him some against RHPs, but I don’t think the Cubs are going to trick anyone into thinking Barney is better than he is. And, honestly, if they are trying to trick people, it might be better to limit his PAs against RHPs, since he has a .269 wOBA for his career against RHPs and a .304 wOBA against LHPs.

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