Before last season, Baseball America had then Texas Rangers 3rd baseman Mike Olt ranked as the 22nd best prospect in all of baseball. Unfortunately, Olt had vision issues in 2013 that led to a horrendous season at the plate, and the Rangers traded him to the Chicago Cubs during the season. Olt has been impressive this spring, and his eyesight problems appear to be behind him. He now seems to be on the inside track of becoming the Cubs’ starter at 3B this season, and at only 25 years old, it looks possible that he will be there for a long time.
If Olt lands the 3B job out of Spring Training, the Cubs’ infield becomes very crowded. Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy combined to make a productive platoon at 3B for the Cubs last season. While both players performed nicely in limited at-bats, neither has the raw talent or upside of Olt. If the Cubs feel like Olt is ready to take the position, neither Valbuena or Murphy will stand in his way.
Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are locks to be the starters at SS and 1B, respectively. Emilio Bonifacio brings versatility and speed that the Cubs simply do not have elsewhere on the roster. Incumbent 2nd baseman Darwin Barney brings Gold Glove caliber defense, but he has always struggled mightily at the plate. If Olt is going to make this roster, there will not be room for all of these guys.
I suppose there is a chance that either Valbuena or Murphy gets released, but recent rumors suggest that the Cubs are shopping Barney, and I am starting to believe that he will be traded before Opening Day. Barney has been playing a lot of shortstop during Spring Training, and I think that is so the Cubs can prove to other teams that he is a viable option at the position. Obviously it is an extreme case of small sample size, but Barney has looked very good at the plate this spring, hitting .290/.371/.484 in 31 at-bats.
Assuming Olt is the everyday starter at 3B, this would open up the Valbuena/Murphy platoon to move to 2B, with Bonifacio occasionally filling in as well. While the Cubs would certainly miss Barney’s glove, this lineup would be much more productive offensively.
Barney is a steady player whose glove alone gives him plenty of value. That being said, he would fit in much better on an offense that could hide his bat at the bottom of the order. With their recent injury to shortstop Jose Iglesias, the Detroit Tigers have been rumored to be interested in Barney, and that would make a ton of sense to me. I also think the New York Yankees would be a great fit.
Barney has always been an extremely hard worker who gets everything out of his talent. Unfortunately for him, the youth movement is upon us in Chicago, and it appears to be time for the Cubs and Barney to go their separate ways. The Cubs are always looking to land young assets, and Barney does have some trade value. He is simply more valuable to a franchise that is currently in position to win.