One of the most polarizing players of late has been 2B Darwin Barney. A recent article in the NY Times said this,
Barney, in his second full season with the Cubs, was batting .268 through Friday with six home runs. He does not steal a lot of bases or score a lot. But defensively, he may be the best second baseman in baseball, and he is in the midst of one of the best seasons ever for a player at his position, having committed just one error in 112 games. It has been a challenging season for the Cubs, to say the least, but with Barney, 26; shortstop Starlin Castro, 22; and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, 23, the team has the makings of a legendary defensive infield.
Those are some pretty strong words and there is no question that Barney has been a standout defensive player. He may win the Gold Glove. He has already broken Ryne Sandberg's errorless streak record. His UZR/150, an advanced metric that takes tries to encompass all aspects of a players defense, is the best in baseball.
His offense, as mentioned, is nothing special. In fact, it is below average for a second baseman. Fangraphs rates him as roughly 7 runs below replacement level. His wOBA is an even .300, well below average and his runs created (RC+) is just 82. The league average is 100. But it also says his defense has saved more runs than his offense has cost. On balance, he's rated as an above average player, 2.4 wins above replacement level.
Is he a keeper?
That's where things get tricky. This is a front office that values defense, particularly up the middle. But it also values OBP and slugging. It values run prevention but not necessarily more than it values run creation. It leaves Barney somewhere in the middle here and it's not surprising that we have some readers who value him highly while we have others who are eager to replace him. The important question is where do the Cubs stand?
We know they weren't eager to trade him as rumors suggested the Cubs were asking for very good value in return. And why not? Barney is a proven regular, he's cost-controlled for 4 more years, and he's about to enter his peak performance seasons. The Cubs also don't have an immediate impact replacement ready should they decide to move him. The 2B job would likely fall to either Luis Valbuena or Adrian Cardenas. Barney is inexpensive, so the Cubs aren't going to save money and they almost certainly won't get an upgrade. In other words, the only real reason to replace Barney is if you trade him and get significant surplus value in return. The Cubs, after all, need multiple pieces, and if trading Barney helps them do that, then they need to consider that option.
Looking at the bigger picture, the Cubs do have some intriguing 2B prospects in the minors. The most ready is AA 2B Logan Watkins, who currently has a .383 OBP to go with 26 SBs in 32 attempts. He could be a long-term solution at leadoff man. Watkins is also an above average defender at 2B, though he's not at Barney's level. Further down the road, the Cubs have Ronald Torreyes, Zeke DeVoss, and Gioskar Amaya. There are also prospects who could make a positional switch such as Javier Baez, Christian Villanueva, or Arismendy Alcantara. Apart from Javier Baez, however, who may not be able to play 2B anyway, none are considered big impact prospects, at least not yet -- and Barney is an established above average MLB second baseman right now.
The bottom line is that it's a decision that the Cubs don't have to make this offseason. They don't need to replace Barney and he's certainly an asset to the team. The Cubs can go into this offseason knowing they have 2B taken care of for the foreseeable future, though there are many variables that can change that such as a great trade offer or the emergence of one of their prospects.