The Evolution Of Darwin Barney
The Chicago Cubs have long been in search for a long-term solution to the team’s second base position. From Todd Walker to Mike Fontenot to Ryan Theriot, the Cubs have had a revolving door at the second base position for most of their recent past. Entering the 2012 season, Darwin Barney figured to be the latest to the list of stop-gap position players to start for the Cubs at second base. In fact, some still refer to Barney as the most recent version of Theriot for the Cubs.
On his career, Theriot is a .280/.341/.350 hitter in a career that spans over eight seasons. Though, in most seasons, Theriot hit .271/.321/.342 for the Cardinals in 2011 and is currently hitting .264/.313/.314 with the San Francisco Giants this season. Barney is a career .269/.308/.360 hitter after debuting for the Cubs in 2010. In 2011, Barney hit .276/.313/.353 and is currently hitting .265/.306/.383 for the Cubs during the 2012 season. The offensive production from Barney and Theriot over the past couple of seasons have mirrored each other. Though, the area that pushes Barney past Theriot is on defense. Barney is a far better fielder than Theriot, and with a defensive wins above replacement of 3.5 games, Barney is quickly becoming one of the best fielding second basemen in all of baseball.
But there is still is some question as to what the future holds for Barney. On the surface, Barney is not of the mold of a Theo Epstein player. With a career on base percentage of .308, Barney may not be the Cubs’ long-term solution at the second base position considering the emphasis that Epstein and the Cubs’ new regime puts on the on base percentage stat. Though, the Cubs’ front office also has put an emphasis on defense. That is the main reason why the Cubs’ overall defense in 2012 has improved from the 2011 season. With Barney emerging as an elite fielder at the second base position, that could be the reason why the Cubs’ front office opts to retain Barney as their starting second baseman for the long-term future.
But, perhaps, the one area that Barney can’t control is the prospects that are coming up through the Cubs’ farm system. Not only do the Cubs already have Starlin Castro at the shortstop position and Josh Vitters at the third base position, but they also have Javier Baez and Junior Lake quickly advancing through the farm system. Lake is currently playing with the Tennessee Smokies at the double-A level, and a promotion to Iowa could be coming for Lake before the season concludes. Meanwhile, Baez was recently promoted to the Cubs high class-A affiliate, and it is not out of the question to think that the Cubs’ 2011 first round pick could begin the 2013 season in Tennessee.
Baez has strictly played shortstop in his short professional career so far, while Lake has split time this season at the shortstop and third base positions. The talk around Baez is that he projects as a third baseman, and it is expected that the Cubs will eventually shift Baez over to the third base position. Lake has also been considered to be a full-time third baseman, though some within the baseball industry believe that shortstop is his best positions. The suggestion has been throw out there that Vitters could eventually be moved to the outfield, ideally left field, and that suggestion has also been mentioned for Baez and Lake.
It would seem inevitable that suggestion of shifting someone from the group (Castro, Vitters, Lake, or Baez) to the second base position as a way to alleviate the crowded left side of the infield. If that suggestion were to surface, it would seem that Castro or Lake would be the the likely candidates to move to the second base position. Castro has shown improved defense with the Cubs at the shortstop position this season, meaning a position change to second base would seem unlikely. That, of course, would leave Lake as the viable candidate to change positions from shortstop to second base. Meaning that Barney may not be the answer for the Cubs at the second base position for the long-term future.