When the Chicago Cubs faced the Kansas City Royals at Cubs Park on Sunday, both Darwin Barney and Emilio Bonifacio were in the starting lineup with Barney at second base and Bonifacio in center field. When Bonifacio signed with the Cubs after being released by the Royals, the conventional thought process was that he may push Barney to the bench or make him expendable in a trade. The problem with a trade from the Cubs perspective is that they are unlikely to sell low on Barney after the terrible season he had at the plate in 2013. His offense was so bad, in fact, that Barney was worth two less wins above replacement in 2013 compared to 2012 despite maintaining his gold glove caliber defense.
Before the train wreck of 2013, Darwin Barney was worth an average of two wins above replacement per season from 2011 to 2012 on the strength of his defense alone. Barney is never going to be an above average major league hitter, but he is a starting caliber player and provides plenty of value to a winning ball club. However, if the Cubs were to trade Barney now he would likely be seen as a bench player by the rest of the league.
It has been reported that the New York Yankees have talked to the Cubs about possibly acquiring Barney, but they likely aren’t offering much in return, seeing Barney as a player who can add depth to their infield at a low cost. During the middle of a playoff chase though, desperation makes teams more willing to mortgage a piece of the future to help ensure a playoff berth.
By playing Bonifacio and Barney in the same lineup together, the Cubs are showing that they have no urgency to make a trade right now. Manager Rick Renteria recently said that he views Emilio Bonifacio as a player similar to Chone Figgins who can play multiple positions and will earn at bats through his versatility. This leaves Barney as likely to start the season at second base, with the motivation to prove that he is more than a black hole on offense.
After working with new hitting coach Bill Mueller, the Cubs are hopeful that Barney can squeeze every last drop of offensive potential out of his bat. Barney began working with Mueller early on this spring and has taken the simplicity of former batting champion’s ideas to heart. Whether or not that will translate to the field is yet to be seen, but Barney has always struck out at a low rate and should have the ability to produce a decent batting average, even if his on-base and slugging percentages stay pathetically poor.
As long as Darwin Barney maintains a gold glove level of defense, he deserves to be a starting second baseman for a good offensive team. Unfortunately, the Cubs do not appear to be that team in 2014 and with highly touted prospect Arismendy Alcantara playing second base at Triple-A, Barney does not factor into the Cubs’ long-term plans at second base.