After a down year in 2013 that saw Darwin Barney achieve career lows in batting average (.208) and OBP (.266), the Cubbies Crib reader faithful was giving the Cubs second baseman the Koyie Hill treatment. At the time, fans had set a high bar of expectation for a player that was merely a backup catcher. While there should be a loftier set of expectations out of Barney, seeing how he has been the starter at second the past few seasons, the fans on the North Side should also understand that number 15 is not the type of player that will fill the void left on the right side of the infield since number 23 retired.
Barney with his Gold Glove defense alone brings value to the organization’s long-term plan of being an annual playoff contender. Should the right-handed second baseman be able to hit in the .260 to .270 range with an OBP well over .300, Barney would be the perfect compliment to a lineup that figures to get the bulk of its offensive production from guys like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. In the near future, that also includes seeing Barney surrounded by the likes of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler – all top prospects that are touted for their offensive upside.
With some competition in the form of Emilio Bonifacio at second this Spring, Barney has responded by hitting .268 with an OBP of .375. Those numbers put him back in the range of his career regular season numbers prior to his 2013 slump. While it is wise not to place bets merely on Spring Training numbers, it should be noted that Bonifacio currently sits at .250 with a .302 OBP. This is the production from a minor league free agent signing that some fans were ready to run Barney out of town for.
There is also something to be said from the fact that the trade interest in Barney has come from the likes of the Detroit Tigers, the New York Yankees and possibly even the Texas Rangers. This short list of teams have been regular playoff contenders in recent years and hints that Barney has more value than a bag of baseballs. Despite that interest, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have hung onto their Gold Glover and Barney looks to begin the 2014 campaign on the North Side. At the very least, Barney provides veteran depth in the infield.
The 2013 Red Sox won with Will Middlebrooks at third. In 2012 the Giants did it with Ryan Theriot. The former Cub was a back-to-back champion as he reached the Fall Classic the year before in St. Louis as well, both times hitting in the .270s for the season while posting an OBP of .316 and .321, numbers that are in reach within Barney’s offensive skill set. Not convinced? Juan Uribe was at short for the 2010 champion Giants and that already takes you back to the start of the decade, an era that coincides with Major League Baseball’s conscious efforts to suppress performance enhancing drugs. Winning teams need a player like Barney. He is capable of being that guy.
Considering the Cubs merely waived Donnie Murphy despite his solid showing in his brief time on the team (instead of dealing him for something), the front office believes that Barney has more value than some fans may perceive. While there is no guarantee that Barney remains a Cub past this July, it is time to take note that he is a bigger piece to a championship winning puzzle than he is being given credit for.
Be the first to tell your friends and fellow fans that Barney is due for a bounce back season that will either see him as a long term part to a contending machine or bring back prospect pieces that will keep the pipeline from the farm to Wrigley flowing. Which ever the case, do not be the one that continues to underrate the Cubs second baseman. Do not be that guy.