As millions celebrated the 4th of July, the Cubs set off some fireworks of their own by trading Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland A's for three prospects and possibly a PTBNL. There's plenty of commentary to be found on that topic, particularly here on CI from Tommy Cook. But lost in the shuffle is a card that will very likely be dealt in addition to those aces at some point.
Were Cubs fans voting on senior superlatives, Darwin Barney might win "Least Likely to be Missed." That's certainly the case as he takes paternity leave (many hope Darwin takes cues from Antonio Cromartie and Shawn Kemp, siring enough kids to keep him on full-time daddy duty), opening a temporary spot for Arismendy Alcantara. Ironically, the youngster with the linguistics-argument-inducing last name looked a lot like man he replaced on Wednesday night, making some slick plays in the field while going 0-4 with 2 K's at the plate.
He may be The Man with the Golden Glove, but Darwin Barney has played a little more like Octopussy for the Cubs over the past couple seasons. And while diamonds are forever, a baseball player's time on one is not, which certainly seems to the be the case for Barney. That said, I believe he might also collect a few votes for "Most Likely to Succeed...to a Moderate Degree...Somewhere Else."
While never the kind of player who turned heads with his bat, Barney was at least serviceable in his first two full seasons in Chicago. Over 299 games in that span, he hit .265 and had an OBP over .300 with an oWAR of 2.8. This mediocre offensive production was bolstered by spectacular defense, capped by a Gold Glove Award in 2012, which he earned by dethroning the Cincinnati Reds' (for now anyway) Brandon Phillips.
But an injury at the end of spring training in 2013 got Darwin off to a slow start, and he never recovered. His once-pedestrian offensive numbers fell to levels that would have embarrassed the likes of Domingo Ramos and Larry Bowa. Even a 1.5 dWAR couldn't offset the .208 average and paltry .266 OPB.
And 2014 hasn't been any better; the average (.214) is up but the OBP (.255) is down and both are nearly 30 points lower than his career numbers. To top it off, he's not flashing the leather that is supposed to be his calling card, representing only 0.4 wins over your average defensive replacement.
But it's not entirely Barney's fault here. In fact, he might be just the type of player who could excel for another team. Below are five reasons Darwin Barney would benefit from a fresh start:
Darwin Barney is never going to be a guy who bats .300 with 25 home runs. But he is capable of putting up mediocre numbers in a lineup that can provide a little protection. With the Cubs, however, he is more exposed than that NSFW picture of Clark the Cub that Deadspin created and that Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic actually aired.
A team full of professional, disciplined hitters would cover some of Barney's flaws and remove any offensive burdens on him. There were rumors throughout the 2013 season that the Detroit Tigers were interested in acquiring the diminutive second baseman, and that is exactly the kind of situation in which he could thrive.
You see what I did there: Barney, evolution? As far as the Cubs go, this means getting younger and more dynamic. While at 28 years of age, he's not old by conventional standards, Darwin is almost ancient when compared to the players waiting to take his place.
It's hard to see what's in front of you when you're always looking over your shoulder, but with players like Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, and now Addison Russell making waves in the minors, that's exactly what Barney is doing. He'll never admit to staring at the rear-view mirror (objects really are closer than they appear), but it would be impossible for him not to. A move would allow Darwin to focus on his own future instead of those of his potential replacements.
Few outside of Cincy will argue Barney's defensive merits, and he's got the hardware to prove it. He's a steadying influence on a young Chicago team, but that is only worth so much. In his breakout 2012 season, Barney had a total WAR of 4.8, but that plummeted to -0.5 last year. The Cubs simply aren't a good enough team for his superior glove work to elevate them, so he's not as valuable to them. Another club might be willing to better compensate him for his specific talents, though.
You hear about guys across all levels of all sports that just provide a great locker-room presence. Glue guys, they're called; players who help a team to bond together because of their attitude and work ethic. That's Darwin Barney.
But you can't glue a puzzle together until all the pieces are in place and the Chicago Cubs are far from a completed work. As the revolving door continues to spin at 1060 West Addison, the personnel situation just isn't static enough for Barney to be much aid in solidifying the team. It would be a different story were he playing for a more established club.
Coming up Short
Darwin Barney came up through the minors as a shortstop, and it's no secret that that's his preferred position on the field. But he chose/was forced to defer to Starlin Castro and move to the other side of the diamond. It clearly hasn't affected his defense, though, as he broke Ryne Sandberg's team record for consecutive error-less games.
He's now a well-established commodity at 2nd base, but Barney might benefit from a move back to his natural position. Achieving success in baseball is as much mental as it is physical, and playing SS in another ballpark could well improve both aspects for Darwin.
With the glut of players moving rapidly up through the Cubs' minor league system, it seems inevitable that Darwin Barney will be replaced. He's also been a popular target for fans' displeasure, and there's no doubt that his failures at the plate have held the team back.
And as the Cubs continue to play better baseball, there may be even more of a push to bring up some prospects to get a little seasoning. Not to mention the fact that Barney's been a popular name as a throw-in or sweetener to some of the potential trades being floated. At this point, it's a matter of when and not if.
It won't be anything to rival another Lou Brock situation, but don't be surprised if #15 has a career rebirth with another team. The Cubs are more than willing to live and let die, and Darwin Barney may just prove that you really can live twice.
Follow me on Twitter: @DEvanAltman
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