There has been much praise for Chicago Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney over the past couple of weeks. That praise has generated from the strong defensive showing that Barney displayed during the 2012 season. Barney’s streak of 141 games without at an error at the second base position was enough to land the second baseman the Fielding Bible award for the second base position, as well as the National League Gold Glove award for second baseman.
In light of Barney’s defensive accomplishments and break out season of sorts, both Cubs’ President Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer have indicated that Barney could be the long term answer at the second base position. Though, this is not the first time that Epstein and Hoyer have publicly praised a player. Generally, the praise from Epstein and Hoyer is followed by some type of roster move involving that player. Last off-season, there were two examples. Epstein suggested that reliever Sean Marshall was the best left handed reliever in baseball days before trading him to the Cincinnati Reds. Later in the 0ff-season, Epstein commended the effort that Carlos Zambrano made in trying to regain the trust of his Cubs teammates; Zambrano was traded that same week as those comments.
Could Barney be the next player to be traded from the Cubs shortly after receiving praise from the front office executives?
Possibly. The thing that adds to the mystique of front office under Epstein and Hoyer is the tight lipped nature in which they operate. In most cases, it is difficult to speculate on a trade or free agent signing until the move is officially announced by the Cubs. The signing of Jorge Soler would be an indicator of that. In trading players, the Cubs front office operate under the process of turning short term assets into long term assets. The 26 year old Barney is under team control though the 2016 season, so there is no question that the second baseman could already be a long-term asset for the Cubs.
The issue comes whether the Cubs would be willing to sacrifice offense at the second base position for the sake of premium defense. The Cubs have several infield prospects that figure to be ready for Major League Baseball within the next couple of seasons. Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, and Javier Baez are infielders that could have a long-term future with the Cubs. Vitters was on display at Wrigley Field for the final two months of the season, and it was clear the third baseman needs more development before becoming a full-time Major League Baseball player. Lake was slowed by injuries this season while with the Tennessee Smokies, but the infielder likely will be ready for the Major Leagues by the end of the 2013 season. Baez, who could be viewed as the Cubs top prospect, may be ready by the 2015 season. Vitters is strictly a third baseman, a move to second base simply is not logical. However, Baez and Lake both possess versatility that would allow them to play the second base, third base, or shortstop position.
The Cubs already have Starlin Castro at the shortstop position, and the third base position figures to be filled by Lake, Vitters, Baez, or Christian Villanueva. Meaning the Cubs would have three additional prospects that figure to have starting potential for a Major League Baseball team. With Vitters, if the Cubs decide he is not their third baseman of the future, then there is a strong chance that the prospect will be traded within the coming seasons. That may even be the likely outcome for Vitters. Though nothing has been mentioned yet, it would appear that Baez is the future third baseman for the Cubs. That would leave Villanueva and Lake. Villanueva has impressed since being acquired in the trade that sent starting pitcher Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers, and could perform his way into the long term plans for the Cubs. That would leave Lake or Barney for the second base position. While Lake does have the potential to be the better offensive player, there is no certainty that he could be an everyday player for the Cubs at the second base position. Meaning, Barney should be considered as the long term answer for the Cubs at the second base position. The only caveat to that would be if the Cubs decided to shift Castro or Villanueva to the second base position.
So while Barney could certainly be traded this winter and some have made that a popular suggestion, it is a move that does not appear likely at this point in time.