As far as offense is concerned second base has been a black hole for the Cubs for a few years now. Incumbent Darwin Barney brings a plus plus glove to the table but his offensive contributions leave something to be desired. 2012 stands as his best season in MLB as he posted a 3.1 WARP on the strength of his defense but he was a major negative last year as his offense completely collapsed and the glove couldn't carry the bat.
Chart Here are the 2B over the past 13 years who carried an OPS Less than or equal to Barney's career .628 mark and earned 500+ PAs
Three of these guys have stories who are unfinished, Cora stuck around as a UTL guy and Abernathy never really played regularly after his 504 PA season.
It's an open question as to whether Barney's glove makes up for the punchless bat even when he is hitting in the .250 range. Barney doesn't get on base and he has an ISO that hovers around the .050-.100 range. A team with a much better offense could stand to sacrifice a lineup slot for defense especially at the keystone where offensive production is a bit limited once you get past the top players.
The Cubs, however, are offensively limited at too many positions to carry Barney and in the long term there's a long list of players who will be coming up the pipeline and will need playing time. Add in the Emilio Bonifacio signing and there's a real situation brewing at 2B.
There are some important factors to note here:
- Barney will make 2.3MM in 2014 as the Cubs avoided arbitration with him by settling for a one year 2.3MM deal.
- Bonifacio is signed to a minor league contract and can play at other positions.
- The Cubs don't have a real lead-off hitter. That's a role Bonifacio can fill if he makes the team.
- Mike Olt has a pretty good shot at making the team out of Spring Training which would push Luis Valbuena elsewhere.
- Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez are all currently infielders and if all goes well, they will push for MLB playing time once the Super-2 date passes.
- Logan Watkins still exists.
With regards to 2014, I doubt the Cubs are interested in paying Barney 2.3MM to be a super utility player who comes off the bench as a defensive replacement or gets a few spot starts here and there. I also think the Cubs would be more than thrilled if Emilio Bonifacio made the team. We've profiled him a bit before but he can play three positions and he steals bases at a high percentage. The big question will be if he can get on base enough to steal those bases.
Similarly, Mike Olt's progress will also be a key factor regarding second base. If he shows that his vision issues are behind him he will earn the thirdbase job over Valbuena by virtue of his bat and his glove. That could start a domino effect which features split playing time for Darwin Barney and Luis Valbuena at second.
Then there's Logan Watkins, who is an interesting player with some patience, pop and utility who should merit at least some playing time in 2014. He can play a few different positions as well in the Bonifacio mold.
I think it's likely that Barney will split time with someone in 2014, who it is depends on Olt and Bonifacio's performance. In the larger picture I think it's also becoming increasingly clear that Barney will not be a starter on the next Cubs playoff team.
The Cubs have a lot of infield prospects who will be vying for playing time in what could be a suddenly crowded picture. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and even Christian Villanueva will all be making their cases soon for playingtime. Alcantara is a 2B right now and Chicago has tossed around the idea of playing Baez at second a little bit this year. All of that leaves Darwin out in the cold a bit. Even if the Cubs trade or move Starlin Castro off shortstop to accommodate Baez it's still unlikely that Barney will find playing time at the keystone as a regular.
Long term the position is up in the air. The game of musical infielders will become clearer in the coming years as prospects come up and either fail or succeed and the current roster continues to turn over as the rebuilding effort takes shape.