A few days ago Garrett filled us in on the signing of Emilio Bonifacio. The former Royal was signed to a minor league deal by the Cubs, with Jon Heyman of CBS Sports mentioning that the super utility man would earn a base salary of $2.5 million should Bonifacio break camp with the North Siders. Such a deal allows the Cubs to add depth to their infield and roster without having to commit a 40 man roster spot up front.
Sep 9, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Kansas City Royals second baseman Emilio Bonifacio (64) throws his bat after striking out in the third inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Bonifacio was a 4o man roster casualty himself, being let go by the Royals and clearing waivers, paving the way for him to sign as a free agent. An initial report from Heyman believed that the infielder/outfielder had turned down Major League offers to hook on with the Cubs, but Cubs.com beat reporter Carrie Muskat spoke with the player and Tweeted the below:
Regardless, what is known is that the Bonifacio will be given a fair shot to make the roster come Opening Day. The switch hitter provides depth in the outfield and would certainly have a shot at the opening at third base. But with full squad workouts kicking off at Spring Training, it will be interesting to see if Bonifacio can battle Darwin Barney for the starting second base spot.
Cubs fans and Cubbies Crib readers who even remotely paid attention to the losing 2013 season know fully well that Barney had a down year at the plate after earning Gold Glove honors from the year before. The four year veteran saw his batting average drop to a career low .208 after maintaining a career average north of .250 prior. The 58 point different between his average and his OBP is solid, but since his OBP was .266 it emphasizes just how bad Barney performed offensively. As a result, the off season found many fans wanting to see Theo Epstein upgrade the second base position. Solid defensive work was not enough to offset the poor performance from the batter’s box.
Meanwhile Bonifacio hit .243 with a .295 OBP while splitting time between Toronto and Kansas City last year. While his minor league deal certainly is not going to be considered a blockbuster upgrade that fans would have liked, a la a Robinson Cano acquisition, Bonifacio’s strong finish the previous season hints that he will at least push Barney to get back on track. What Bonifacio brings to the table over the incumbent starting second baseman is the ability to switch hit and provide a legitimate base stealing threat. Bonifacio swiped 28 bags just last season and combined to steal 70 in his final two years as a Marlin, including 40 during his career year in 2011 that also saw him hit .296 with .360 OBP. As a result, the 5 foot 11 utility man is also capable of fulfilling the void at lead off for the North Siders.
While Barney certainly cannot compete with those stolen base numbers, what the Gold Glover does bring to the table is the ability to hit to the situation and put the ball in play. Barney has averaged 63 strikeouts a season, while Bonifacio has collected over 100 punch outs in two of three seasons in which he played over 100 games. Number 15 would be suited for the two hole or the eighth spot in the Cubs order, while Bonifacio would find himself towards the bottom of the order if he is not the answer at the top.
Ultimately, I expect to see Barney keep his starting job at second come March 31st. I would like to see him paired at the top of the order wit Starlin Castro, a combination that saw some success back in 2011. If new manager Rick Renteria and the Cubs can get Barney to channel some of his attempts at a power stroke back to making contact, it is not far fetched to see Barney become a .270 hitter with an OBP over .300. While Bonifacio is no slouch with the glove, Barney still gets the nod in that area as well due to the hardware on his mantle known as the Gold Glove.
At worst Bonifacio can be the next Mark DeRosa or Jeff Baker for the 2014 Cubs and the North Side fan base. The utility man and switch hitter would give manager Renteria as much flexibility as a single player on the roster can, something that would come in even more handy at the start of the season when many teams consider packing an extra pitcher in their bullpen luggage. Bonifacio will most likely be giving Donnie Murphy and Luis Valbuena competition for playing time at third base, considering the position is being kept warm for 2013 first round pick Kris Bryant.
Either way, the Bonifacio addition brings nothing but positive potential for the 2014 edition of the Cubs without costing Major League money like the Scott Baker deal or taking a up a valuable 40 man roster spot. Stay tuned this Spring to see how this plays out and certainly feel free to chime in with your two cents in the comments section below.