This afternoon I had some exchanges on Twitter with @CubsDen (read him!) and @Carl9730 (follow him!) about the Cubs' current roster. Carl asked if we thought the Cubs would add more pitching; John and I agreed that the 40-man is already pretty well set, so any change to the ML roster — pitching OR hitting — would require a trade.
So if the Cubs were to try to upgrade a position, who would they move? Alfonso Soriano might come to mind quickly, and he is obviously the team's most overpaid player. But that doesn't mean he's godawful; he still runs, throws, and slugs better than enough other baseball players. (That OBP — .289 in 2011!!! — is another story.) Plus, I think the Cubs have some decent outfield depth already should they decide to cut Alf later on (Sappelt, Campana, Johnson, and eventually Jackson).
I think the team wants to give Ian Stewart a few months in Wrigley to see if he can't recover some of his previous value, so a third base upgrade doesn't make much sense to me. LaHair/Rizzo should be enough at first, and shortstop and catcher are already manned by firmly entrenched major league players.
That leaves second base. It's funny; for years, we were forced to play a natural second baseman (Ryan Theriot) at shortstop, and now it looks like we'll be starting a natural shortstop at 2B on Opening Day 2012.
Make no mistake: Darwin Barney is a shortstop. There are two, maybe three positions on the diamond — short, center field, catcher — where a team can stand to miss out on a bit of offense in exchange for superior defense. In general, though, a team's 2B should hit better than its SS. The Cubs are a special case considering their talent at the 6 spot, but consider a few points:
- Only six NL 2Bs had a lower wRC+ than Barney last season (min. 200 PAs). At shortstop, he'd have been better than 11 other players. (Barney had a 79 wRC+ in 2011; a wRC+ of 100 represents a league average bat.)
- Ten different NL 2Bs had a wRC+ of 100 or greater; only seven shortstops managed the feat.
- Across MLB, 20 SSs had wRC+ less than 80 compared to 16 2Bs, and 14 SSs had wRC+ greater than or equal to 100, compared to 17 2Bs.
With that in mind, I've looked at the likely starting shortstop for each team in MLB. By my count, there are three organizations for which Barney would represent an upgrade at shortstop (unless you prefer Barney's bat to Nick Punto's, and doubt Mike Aviles' ability to handle SS). I can't decide how to rank them, so the teams are presented in no particular order:
1. San Francisco Giants
The Giants' Brandon Crawford is younger than Barney, and a bit of a similar player: good glove at short, but lacking as a hitter. That said, despite his lack of power Barney clearly has the better bat: Crawford is a career .266 hitter in the minors, and put up a .204/.288/.296 in his first 220 MLB PAs last year.
Trade Target: Charlie Culberson is an interesting name. A former first round pick, Culberson has lost some of his former shine, having been moved from shortstop to second base. His hitting isn't quite there yet (.262/.314/.375 in his MiLB career), but he does appear to have some speed (39:11 SB:CS over his past two MiLB seasons). He would also help the Cubs get younger, as he's about to enter his age 23 season.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are slated to start Clint Barmes at short — he of the career .252/.302/.401 batting line. Barney will probably get 15-20 more hits than Barmes in 2012, and is younger, although at this point I think Barney is who he is.
Trade Target: There's a former Cubs draft pick lurking on the Pirates' 40-man roster that appears blocked within the Pittsburgh system. Josh Harrison was dealt to the Pirates in the Tom Gorzelanny/John Grabow deal (blehhhh), after being drafted in the 6th round of the 2008 draft. A man without a position, Harrison split his MiLB time in 2011 between 3B and 2B, two positions where the Pirates appear set. He needs more power to fit on an MLB roster, but he did hit .272 in 204 MLB PAs last season, with a completely sustainable BABIP of .304.
3. Seattle Mariners
Brendan Ryan has a great glove. But he also has health issues, and is probably one of the few MLB regulars that contributes less at the plate than Barney (.256/.313/.339 career).
Trade Target: Even with some effort, no obvious young infielder targets within the Seattle system, so let's get wild: could throwing in Darwin Barney help reduce the amount of cash the Cubs would have to send in an Alfonso Soriano-for-Chone Figgins swap of bad contracts? As it stands, Sori is owed $37 million more over the life of his contract than Figgins, who is set to earn $17 million over the next two years.
Well that was a fun Sunday afternoon exercise wasn't it? What do you think, does any of this make any sense at all? Am I selling Darwin Barney short, no pun intended?