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darwin barney errorFor the better part of three years, Darwin Barney was the starter at second base for the Chicago Cubs. Coming in 2014, we knew things looked a little hazier, given his (very) down 2013 season, the makeup of the roster, the arrival of a new manager, and the impending arrival of infield prospects.

Still, it was reasonable to expect that Barney would nominally remain the starter at second base, even if he was giving up semi-regular starts to Emilio Bonifacio and/or Luis Valbuena.

How has it played out? Well, so far, Barney has pretty much started only against lefties, against whom he does sport a 79-point split advantage in his career. Of course, Barney isn’t really in there for his bat, but there’s not a better option at second base against lefties anyway, assuming you want to max out the number of right-handed bats in the lineup on a given day. And the platooning, you could argue, has worked out: Barney is hitting .200/.429/.200, which is one of those weird lines you’ll only see in April. Of course, must of his damage has come against righties, so maybe I’ll just let this whole point slide for now.

Emilio Bonifacio’s emergence has really been the primary impediment to Barney getting more starts, because Bonifacio isn’t going to sit with regularity any time soon. When there’s a righty on the mound, the most obvious spot to put Bonifacio is at second base, given the presence of three lefty bats available in the outfield. In other words, sitting Barney so far against righties has had less to do with Barney, and more to do with wanting Bonifacio in there (as well as Ryan Sweeney and Ryan Kalish in the outfield, and Luis Valbuena at third).

It’s a really tough spot for the Cubs with respect to Barney, assuming they wanted to consider shopping him this year. You’d love to be able to show the baseball world that he’s good enough to start every day on your (probably bad) team; if he’s not, then how can you justify telling a contender that Barney should be starting for them? I’m a bit surprised at the extent to which Barney has become the weak side of a platoon so early in the season, even as I agree that it’s likely the right move. You just don’t see this kind of thing with entrenched, well-liked starters, but it’s a credit to Ricky Renteria that we haven’t really heard about any waves.

That said, if this continues to be Barney’s role, I think we’re going to see the Cubs make an effort to move Barney to a team where he could see more playing time. Don’t expect a significant return, though the Cubs could probably net a worth-discussing prospect. Given the impending arrival of guys like Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, and the fact that infield glut already pushed him to a reduced role before those guys even arrived, Barney remains a non-tender candidate for the Cubs after this season (he’s in his first year of arbitration, and remains under control for two more years).

For his part, Barney tells the Sun-Times that he recognizes his role with the Cubs has changed, and he understands that he can’t hide from last year.

Barney’s a smart guy, and I’m sure he can see what’s coming in the future: a utility role with the Cubs (after a likely non-tender and a renegotiated salary for 2015), or a trade to another team where he might have a chance of being a glove-first shortstop or second baseman, and seeing more regular starts. If there’s a team out there on which Barney could see regular starts in 2014 and beyond, I’d think all sides would be on board with making that happen. If not, maybe there can be a successful utility transition for Barney and the Cubs. It doesn’t strike me as likely, but you never rule anything out.

Until then – and we probably won’t hear too much in the way of Barney trade rumors until June or July (the last batch of rumors having died down when the season started) – the Cubs will have to continue to balance the interests of playing the best lineup, playing the right guys for development, and showcasing players with marginal trade value.

  • ColoCubFan

    The biggest return possible would involve a team in the race that suddenly needs a SS/2B.

    • J. L.

      I really doubt a contending team would just give Barney an everyday spot at shortstop knowing that he hasn’t played there since 2010 and he brings nothing with the bat. They might as well just give the spot to any journeyman in the minors more accustomed to playing shortstop.

      • J. L.

        (Hasn’t REGULARLY played there since 2010, I mean.)

  • dwest9cubs

    Rangers (although we’ve robbed them twice, might not want to trade with us), Giants, and basically anyone besides us who isn’t on this list: http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/batting/_/position/2b/sort/OPS

    • dwest9cubs

      Are who we could potentially trade with.

  • terencemann

    Barney is half way to making Kevin Goldstein’s prediction that he could spend a decade in the majors come true.

    • J. L.

      And I think he’s completely deserving of that. Just not as a starter.

  • TK

    Id like to keep him . . . Until he retires. Besides the glove, i think he is truly better than what he did last year, although not enough so as to keep the starting job. Mostly tho, he’s a really good guy. He’s the guy you WANT on your team for his personality.

    • Jon

      That’s silly.

      • Funn Dave

        Yeah. Baseball is a competitive sport, not a popularity contest.

        • JasonP

          Baseball is a 6 month grind with only a couple of off days per month. It’s nice to have a solid personality around who doesn’t gripe, and presumably could play a role in keeping things positive and professional. I don’t think TK is suggesting that Barney stay around because he’s likeable, but rather because his personality can help everyone in the clubhouse.

          • DarthHater

            That’s what Manager Happy is for.

    • Jason P

      I want him around for the long haul as long as he’s okay with taking on a full time bench job. I think he’s a winner — he always puts together good at bats late in games. For his career, in high leverage situations, his BB% jumps up to 8.2% (versus under 6 in all other situations), and he barely strikes out. His OPS also increases when it’s close and late (.664 vs. .629 career).

      Beyond that, he has the perfect skill set to be a utility infielder, with his defense at both middle infield positions. I also would like to see him stay for his makeup and so that he could move into a mentor role with some of these younger players coming up.

      And if we trade him, we’ll get a low-A lottery ticket prospect to compete with Shawon Dunston for 4th outfielder on Kane County, so I’d rather just keep him.

      • Q-Ball

        I agree with the sentiment that I like Barney on my team, and he will have a 10-year+ career in this league because of his defense, attitude, and work ethic.

        But he can’t stay on the Cubs, simply because his arb number is getting too high for a backup. If he is not traded to a club where he can start, he’ll be DFA’ed, and become a FA.

        • http://bleachernation.com woody

          You hit the nail on the head. Barney is going to be an expensive option for a back up utility guy. Honestly if they can’t get anything for him then they need to let him go this summer so he can get a new opportunity. Baez or Alcantara at second is an upgrade offensively.

      • Jon

        I’ll quite never get fans love for bad scrappy white players that is based on intangibles. People really want to keep Barney around as the team mascot? 25 man roster spots in the national league are kind of valuable.

        • Jason P

          Except Barney isn’t bad. Bad for a starter? Yes. Bad for a utility infielder? no.

        • Jason P

          And if you’ll take off your troll hat for a second, you’ll notice “intangibles” took up one sentence of my 3 paragraph comment.

  • fromthemitten

    His most logical place to get starts is SS, but it seems Castro only takes days off if he did something stupid the day before or is in a prolonged slump and “needs a day off”. He doesn’t provide enough offensive value to get starts in the OF or 3B over Olt/Valbuena. Maybe the Cubs could get something for him if they package him along with one of their international free agent slots.

  • 5412

    Hi,

    Barney reminds me of Cedeno. OK but far from great. Then one day you will wake up and see he played ten years for several teams and might have a ring.

    Regards,
    5412

    PS: my guess is guys like him end up very wealthy men even though they never sign mega contracts

    • Jason P

      I’m surprised Cedeno’s stuck around this long. He’s basically terrible at everything he does. Barney’s at least always got his fielding to fall back on.

    • CubsFaninMS

      That’s a good comparison. Barney may have the ceiling of an Angel Pagan. Angel Pagan has been solid his entire career as well, but doesn’t stand out at anything. Every now and then he can surprise you, though.

  • candyland07

    For this present Cubs team Barney role is what should be expected, Barney is a serviceable all around player coming off the bench,if Barney could hit better this discussion would have no merit. The young man was given 2 to 3 years to show is bat and sometime that bat was invisible soon it will be time to move on without him. if only he could hit with some consistency he would be a damn good solid ball player but he is solid in the field and that is all.

  • MightyBear

    I think people forget, Barney was projected as a utility guy. Then he hit better than expected and became a gold glover at second and he was the second baseman. Then the league adjusted to him and while his glove is still good, he can’t hit well enough to be a starter, therefore, utility guy, as projected.

    • Crockett

      No, he hit exactly as expected…terribly.

      Some Cub fans just came to accept him as pretty decent because he’s “grindy” and “plays the game the right way”.

      In reality, he’s terrible and I cannot wait for the day he’s no longer an option to put in the lineup. He straddles the line between 9th inning defensive replacement and AAA player. I don’t even say AAAA because he never hit at any level.

      • davidalanu

        You’re overstating. In 2011 and 2012 he was a 2 war player even with a below replacment bat. And that was at league minimum. He was a good player and a good value. Now that his bat has dropped into nearly mick kelleher territory and he’s arb eligible he’s not worthy of a starting spot and is not a good value.

        • Crockett

          Well, I have personal disagreements with fangraphs assertation of defensive value versus offensive value, especially with the increased usage of defensive shifts.

          There is absolutely no way he was actually a 2 win player if you properly rationalize his defensive value. It isn’t like most 2nd basemen are Jeff Kent.

          • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

            28 Defensive Runs Saved in 2012, sounds pretty valuable to me

            • Crockett

              Yeah, but I think that number is flawed. I have delved pretty deep into fangraphs development of their defensive metrics, and I fundamentally disagree with how they evaluate such things.

              • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

                That number is from BRef, not fangraphs

                • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

                  And Bref uses The Fielding Bible numbers for those stats

                  • Crockett

                    PS – Travis Wood outhit the Cubs starting 2B last year.

                    • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

                      And last year was the worst of his career. I’m interested to see all of the new FieldFX data, as that will greatly increase the reliability of defensive metrics. While it is difficult to decipher between guys that are close in term of DRS, Darwin Barney’s total in 2012 was almost double that of the second place 2nd baseman. To me, that is pretty strong evidence of how good he was. Defense aside, he was worth 1.3 oWAR in both 2011 and 2012 (BRef)

                    • ssckelley

                      Way to move the goal post. Nicely done!

              • Crockett

                Fangraphs has a similar system to the Fielding Bible. I went to a talk or two done by Jon Dewan…not impressed with how the defensive metrics are currently built.

                Now, as we move to more and more of a pitching dominant pitching era, defense is more important, but with scoring at a premium, there needs to be some sort of correction for value when your bat is as weak and awful as Darwin Barney.

  • Spencer

    I guess I’m not really down with the idea of forcing Barney’s terribly awful bat into the lineup so that the Cubs might be able to maybe possibly receive a marginal prospect in return. Everyone talks about getting off to a good start to the season..Barney being in the lineup makes that tougher.

  • waittilthisyear

    we have seen the infatuation with sweeny start to fade, whether or not that is justifiable i am not concerned with. kalish has had one good game to go along with a heartwarming story. there is plenty of time for spots to open up

  • JasonP

    Soler and Barney for a pitching prospect with frontline potential?

  • 5412

    Hi,

    Basically April and May are audition months and then things settle down. Players will play themselves in to or out of the every day lineup. We may find the current challengers to Barney don’t get the job done and he is the best we have….for the moment.

    Then in the fall the call ups make their move.

    regards,
    5412

  • http://kempfintl.com pfk

    I don’t think Barney has value for a weak team. On the contrary, I think a good team that scores runs but needs a second baseman or shortstop with a Gold Glove would love to have him. Or for great utility purposes.

  • jschwei17

    To put a positive spin on this, it means that our 25 man roster is much deeper and more talented than when we were forced to run Barney out there every day. He might be an addition to a trade but he alone will never bring much in return. Like you said, Brett, if he can’t start for a bad team…

  • http://kempfintl.com pfk

    The fact is, he won’t be the 2nd baseman at all soon. No sense in showcasing him. As the Cubs may have to move a few people soon, he could be part of a package. The guy can do everything but hit. Great glove, smart runner, and both an infield and clubhouse leader. A class act whose time has come for a new situation.

    • CubsFaninMS

      Good points. You rarely see Barney make a mental mistake. If he could have a .320 OBP, he would be an above average starter and a terrific addition to a team with lots of strong bats. Frustrating that he’s yet to put that kind of production together yet.

  • CubsFaninMS

    Little Tony completely misjudged a fly ball with the D-Backs last night in San Francisco. He sprinted to the fence only to have the ball fall 20 feet in front of him. There were several misjudged fly balls that night so we’ll give him a mulligan.

  • ssckelley

    I really like the fact that Barney has improved his patience at the plate and is taking more walks. If he continues his walk rate he could turn into a decent #2 hitter for a team with a base stealing threat at the top.

    His defense is top notch, he constantly robs hits of opposing hitters.

    • davidalanu

      I dont think there’s any way that Barney would be an adequate two hole hitter. He’d have to increase his best obp by 50 points and I cant see that happening.

      • Jon

        Part of the process of a making the Cubs better, is replacing players like Darwin Barney, with better players. I swear if he was Latin nobody would give a fuck about keeping him around past this year.

        • davidalanu

          Is it necessary to make every comment into a dick statement? Who was the guy, who was Latin American that wend to the dbacks? He got the same kinda love.

          • Jon

            Luis Gonzalez?

            • davidalanu

              No, scrappy versatile middle infielder.

              • Jon

                Augie Ojeda!

            • waittilthisyear

              the “if he was latin” comment: i am inferring that you’re suggesting because he is white, people have formed a stronger connection to him. to which i reply, you do realize he is 1/4 asian (i’d specify which one (i think chinese) but i’m not 100% sure and don’t feel like looking it up)

        • ssckelley

          Jon, don’t worry by next spring Barney will be gone. He will either have been traded or the Cubs did not tender him a contract.

        • E

          “I swear if he was Latin nobody would give a fuck about keeping him around past this year.”

          Man you love playing the race card.

          • ssckelley

            psssst….wait until he finds out Javier Baez is from Puerto Rico.

      • ssckelley

        I agree, but I believe it might be possible. In 77 PA’s between ST and so far this season he has taken 15 walks. This is a guy who has a career high 36 walks in a single season (in 555 PAs) and 5 of them were intentional.

        • Crockett

          I love how you’re constantly derogatory towards my views and statements and you come up with ludicrous ideas like, “but he could be a #2 hitter!”

          Once you start forming and stating lucid baseball thoughts…I will give your comments credence. Right now, you’re just a meatball posting fantastical ridiculousness that has absolutely no foundation in reality.

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