The above chart shows OPS+ ratings for Cubs players in 2012.
As Alex Remington of Yahoo! Sports puts it:
“[OPS+] it’s a single number that attempts to measure a player’s contributions at bat. It doesn’t account for baserunning or defense and it doesn’t account for the discrepancy in value between on-base percentage and slugging, but it’s a pretty good indicator of how good a year a particular player has had.”
The aim of this graphic is to help illustrate, at least partly, why the Cubs are in need of a center fielder and third baseman this offseason.
Darwin Barney obviously made up for his below league average rating with a Gold Glove seasons defensively. And Bryan LaHair, despite his steep decline at the plate throughout the season, surprisingly finished the year above league average.
We should expect Starlin Castro’s rating to go up as he becomes more comfortable with his plate approach. Welington Castillo, however, remains more of a mystery as to whether his OPS+ will move up or down next year. The same holds true for Dave Sappelt.
The hope with Soriano, assuming the Cubs can’t trade him this winter, would be for him to match his OPS+ in 2013. Meanwhile, Anthony Rizzo’s OPS+ will most likely increase even further.
It’s not a bad infield core, but finding a league average OPS+ player at third and center would go a long way towards helping the Cubs regain some respectability.
The Cubs are still searching for a starting third baseman in 2013 and there’s plenty of speculation as to who that player will be.
The bigger question, however, is how long before the Cubs find a long-term solution at third?
It took the Cubs 30-years to bridge the gap from Ron Santo to Aramis Ramirez…and 13-years to find Santo after Stan Hack. Next season marks the second campaign without A-Ram, who was a staple at the hot corner for nine-seasons.
History doesn’t appear to be on the Cubs side. But does that mean Chicago can’t close the gap more quickly that it has in years past?
Josh Vitters isn’t knocking the door down at Triple-A the way Team Theo would like him to. So perhaps one of the Cubs’ brightest prospects, shortstop Javier Baez, could make the transition to third and play alongside Starlin Castro in a season or two–although early indications of the move suggest otherwise.
Additionally, highly touted prospects Christian Villanueva (acquired in the Dempster trade) and Jurickson Profar could be the next Anthony Rizzo at third…or the next Gary Scott.
Either way, determining if the above prospects are the long-term solution will take precious time, possibly 2 or 3 more years.
And if the Cubs fail to develop a third baseman from within, they’ll be left to look via trade or free agency. But of course, you have to give to get, and there’s no counting on a quality third baseman hitting the FA market before passing his prime, either.
I wouldn’t fault the Cubs for not having its long-term answer at third solved by 2014 or even 2015. But it goes without saying the answer to Aramis needs to come much sooner than it did after Santo and Hack.
Pitching remains king, but teams still have to score runs to reach the postseason.
A more recent marker for playoff teams (pre/post steroids era) is generally 700 runs scored, which means the Cubs–ranked 28/30 in runs scored with 613–have a ton of ground to make up offensively.
How Chicago tops 700 is one of the main concerns for Team Theo during the rebuild and helps explain the organization’s new found interest in ‘grinding’ out plate approaches and increasing its team on-base percentage.
Only one team managed to reach the postseason in 2012 despite scoring fewer than 700 runs–the Reds at 669.
Cincy, however, made up for its lack of run production with an incredibly reliable rotation and one of the best bullpens in the majors–neither of which the Cubs have.
Meanwhile, the Braves joined Cincinnati as the only two playoff teams to rank below the major’s Top 15 teams in runs scored. Atlanta (700) ranked 17th and the Reds 21st.
Otherwise the 8 remaining postseason contenders all finished in the top half of the league in runs scored, including 4 teams ranked in the Top 10: Rangers first-overall (808), Yankees second (804), Cardinals fifth (765) & Nationals tenth (731).
The AL pennant winning Tigers ranked eleventh (726) and the World Series winning Giants twelfth (718). Both of course had sensational starting pitching.
Increasing run production by 87-runs won’t happen in one offseason for Chicago. And there’s already a smattering of scenarios that need to happen just for the Cubs to improve its run production next season, let alone reach 700 runs scored.
I do have faith Chicago will eventually assemble a lineup to reach the 700 marker and beyond in the next 2 or 3 seasons. Trying to prevent 700 runs from scoring, however, will be an entirely different matter, and one that should prove much more difficult to achieve.
It’s a no-brainer reaching October baseball ultimately comes down to solid pitching. But quality pitching doesn’t work alone, and rarely does it succeed without 700 runs of offense to go with it.
So let 700 runs scored be one number we use as a measuring stick during Year 2 of the Cubs’ rebuild. And the sooner it happens the closer the Cubs will be to reaching the postseason.
Interesting article from SI.com on a few below the radar type free-agents.
Some of the players mentioned piqued my interest as possibilities for the Cubs.
For each of those players I’ve included a snippet of the article summary below. To read in its entirety click here.
- Jason Grilli, RP
2012: Pittsburgh Pirates, 2.91 ERA, 13.8 SO/9 in 58.2 IP
2013 age: 36
Since returning from a 2010 season lost to knee surgery, Grilli has improved his control dramatically and missed bats at an alarming rate. With both his fastball and slider netting swings and misses on at least 15 percent of his pitches in 2012, his 36.3 percent strikeout percentage ranked fourth among NL pitchers with at least 50 innings, behind only Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. He can be a setup man for a contender and will get a nice raise from this year’s $1.1 million.
- Brandon Lyon, RP
2012: Houston Astros & Toronto Blue Jays, 3.10 ERA, 9.3 SO/9 in 61 IP
2013 age: 33
Lyon came into the year still recovering from surgery to repair tears in his labrum and rotator cuff and wound up with a new lease on life in the bullpen. Thanks to an increasingly effective curveball, he got the highest swing-and-miss rate of his career (18 percent of all strikes); his rate of strikeouts per nine, a pedestrian 5.8 from 2001-2011, shot up to 9.3.
- Maicer Izturis, IF
2012: LA Angels of Anaheim, .256/.320/.315, 2 HR, 17 SB in 319 PA
2013 age: 32
Izturis isn’t fit for a full-time job, but as a guy who can play second and third competently (and spot at short, briefly) while getting on base at a better-than-league-average clip with virtually no platoon split (.276/.326/.367 versus lefties from 2010-2012, .259/.327/.357 versus righties), he’s a handy bench guy, though he’ll have to take a pay cut from the $3.8 million he made this year.
- Joe Blanton, SP
2012: Philadelphia Phillies & LA Dodgers, 4.71 ERA, 7.8 SO/9 in 191 IP
2013 age: 32
He misses bats and has good control; his walk rate was the league’s third-lowest. Give him better defensive support than the .314 BABIP he suffered through in 2012 (.347 with the Dodgers, making for a bust of a trade), and a big enough ballpark to offset his flyballing ways and trim his inflated homer rate (1.4 per nine last year, 1.1 career), he can provide 180 or so innings of league-average work at the back of a rotation.
- Scott Feldman, SP
2012: Texas Rangers, 5.09 ERA, 7.0 SO/9 in 123.2 IP
2013 age: 30
Thanks in part to the development of an effective changeup, his strikeout rate was the highest of his career — well above his career 5.0 per nine prior — and not simply the product of a ton of short stints out of the bullpen (it was 7.2 in 13 2/3 innings in the latter role). Meanwhile, his walk rate (2.3 per nine) was a career low, so his strikeout-to-walk ratio effectively doubled. His ERA was inflated by a .318 BABIP and a hitter-friendly ballpark; in Arlington, batters tagged him at a .300/.333/.487 clip, compared to .255/.307/.351 on the road. In a more hospitable environment, he can help.
The Cubs had the 15th highest payroll and the second most losses in MLB last season.
It’s exactly the kind of payroll inefficiency that put the Cubs in this mess, and exactly why GM Jed Hoyer is focused on changing Chicago’s spending habits moving forward.
“We talk a lot about payroll efficiency. A lot of that is getting to that point where you feel like it’s a payroll you’ve created based on contract lengths that you like. One of the things we’re very wary of is sort of jumping back in and muddying those waters because we know there’s a time in the future where it really becomes a lot more efficient. We’re not dealing with some of the contract issues we’ve been dealing with the last couple of years. I think our ability to have an efficient payroll is really important.” –Jed Hoyer
A common held belief among baseball fans is the team that spends the most wins the most, which simply isn’t true.
That doesn’t mean payroll disparity in the league is a non-issue, but the chart below shows it’s not necessarily ‘how much’ a team spends on player talent but ‘how’ they spend that lends itself to winning.
Granted five of the 10 playoff teams this year were in the Top 10 in payroll, but five other postseason contenders actually spent fewer dollars than the Cubs to reach October.
Oakland won its division with the second lowest payroll in the league. Washington ranked 20th and posted the most wins in all of baseball.
Meanwhile, big spenders such as Boston (3) and Miami (7) absolutely tanked with each team finishing well below .500 at 69-wins apiece.
The real issue is the league’s huge payroll disparity, which allows teams such as the Yankees to recover from its payroll inefficiencies more quickly than say the Indians or Rays.
New York enjoys the luxury of paying its ‘bad contracts’ to go away. And when in need of better talent the Yankees can essentially ‘buy” whatever they need–even at the cost of overspending to get it.
If baseball ever decided to level the playing field similar to the NFL, which I don’t anticipate, it would curtail the ability of large market clubs to buy its way out of ill-advised, low efficient contracts. Then imagine how differently the Bombers would operate.
The Cubs are actually quite fortunate under the current system being a large-market team with Tom Ricketts’ deep pockets. In fact, Ricketts has spent nearly as much money eating bad deals (Zambrano) as he had on last year’s entire payroll.
All said, it’s only a matter of time before Team Theo’s more efficient payroll approach has Chicago not just rejoining the top spending teams in the league, but also the postseason.
Remember when Alfonso Soriano went homerless during his first 30-games this season? Or how he painfully hobbled around the outfield for five weeks after fouling a pitch off his knee in mid-May?
Now look at him. Since hitting his first long ball on May 15 he’s third in the majors in home runs (29) and one of only two players in the National League with at least 29 HR & 100-plus RBI, Ryan Braun being the other.
Soriano’s 101 RBI are his most with the Cubs in his six-seasons played on the North Side. It’s also good for the eighth most RBI in all of baseball this year, and third most in the NL behind Braun & Chase Headley (each have 104, which is Soriano’s career-high).
Alfonso is also in the NL’s Top 5 in HR, of which half (15) have come with men on base. Additionally, he’s in the Top 25 in doubles (30) and Top 30 in OPS (.811).
His 15 game-winning RBI, 28 go-ahead RBI and 38 two-out RBI leads the Cubs–there’s not even a close second. And let’s not forget his defense this season is worthy of Gold Glove consideration, as well.
So here’s the rub. What should the Cubs do with Soriano this offseason? Do the Cubs eat a good portion of his remaining 2-yr, $18M dollar salary and trade him for prospects…or do you retain his services for at least another season with the expectation he’ll put up similar numbers in 2013?
Keeping Soriano isn’t all bad for the sake of putting a better product on the field next year, which the Cubs need to do. But dealing him obviously opens up roster space in the outfield to evaluate younger players who may, or may not, be part of the long-term rebuilding plans.
The real trouble with parting from Soriano is how on earth do the Cubs replace his production? Chances are, they don’t.
So it’s a tricky spot for Team Theo weighing the pro’s of dealing Soriano to further the rebuilding movement vs. the con’s of weakening the product on the field in 2013.
My gut feeling is Epstein and Hoyer trade Soriano. What yours?
You may not recognize his face, but you’ll recognize his voice as a host of Cubs Central Postgame on WGN Radio. Jordan Bernfield is also a writer & podcaster for miCubs.com in addition to other broadcasting ventures.
I recently caught up with Jordan to talk about the on goings of the Cubs’ 2012 season, including everything from Kerry Wood’s early season retirement to how long before we’ll see a winner on the North Side.
This is the second post of a two-part series addressing possible free-agent signings for the Cubs entering the 2013 season. This article addresses FA position players, the first article covers FA pitchers…
The Cubs have several key holes to fill around the diamond this winter in hopes of fielding a more competitive team in 2013. For starters, there’s a gaping hole at third base. The outfield is thin and so is the catching depth.
Although the Cubs recently added some quality and promising prospects to its lower-level minor leagues, most of these guys are years away from reaching the majors, if in fact, they even make it that far.
That means the Cubs will need to forgo the in-house options in favor of the free agent route. And as I mentioned in Part One: Chicago will be targeting mid-level FA to supplement its big league depth.
Below is a list of several FA the Cubs could sign this offseason to help transition the team from pretender to contender. (Player age listed in parenthesis)
-Ronny Paulino (32): A career journeyman behind the dish. His eight-years in the bigs have seen him play anywhere from 133-games in a season to just 20-games with the Orioles this year before being outrighted to Triple-A in July. Like so many of his peers, Paulino’s defense has kept in the league more than his bat: career .272/.324/.376. But for $1M or less, Paulino’s a likeable fill-gap option to complement Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger.
The thing to keep in mind about the crop of free-agent third basemen is that it’s largely comprised of guys on the very back end of their careers. Basically, the pickings are slim, at best.
-Maicer Izturis (32): It’s virtually a lock Josh Vitters will begin next season at Triple-A Iowa (.093/.148/.200). Bringing back Ian Stewart, if healthy, could be one option, but why waste money on Stewart’s untapped potential if the Cubs can land a more proven veteran like Izturis? Although Macier is only a slightly above-average fielder, he does bring the ability to play multiple infield positions, which he’s done for the better part of his nine-year career (3B: 290 games, 2B: 242 games & SS: 191 games). He’s not the ideal power-bat you want at a corner infield position, averaging 7 HR & 60 RBI over 162-games, but he is an automatic upgrade over Vitters and Stewart, with a price tag well within reason of $3-4M. That’s also an affordable insurance policy if Castro or Barney were to be lost for any length of time due to injury.
Almora, Jackson & Soler has a nice ring to it, but who knows if that day will ever come for the Cubs’ outfield. What we do know is that won’t happen in 2013. Jackson, of course, is no guarantee himself to be on the Opening Day roster next season. Almora and Soler, meanwhile, are at least two years away from making their big league debuts. Even if BJax makes the team out of spring training, this outfield still needs some depth. And am I the only one getting the feeling Alfonso Soriano is as good as gone this winter?
-BJ Upton (28): Hard to believe Upton is already in his eighth season with Tampa Bay, and even harder to believe we’re still waiting for his break-out year offensively. But what Upton has accomplished with the Rays is far better than what the Cubs currently have in its outfield. Despite not delivering on his ever-expected break-out season, Upton still averages 20 HR & 75 RBI per season. And since transitioning from SS to 3B to LF to CF (2008), Upton has also grown better defensively along the way.
While many have given up hope Upton becomes that 30 HR, 100 RBI guy we once thought he would be, there are certain to be teams willing to pay him in excess of his actual market value for what he still might become as a hitter. As it is, even a deal based on Upton’s current track record may prove too pricy for Team Theo’s tastes. With Upton entering his prime years, however, I’d have to believe the Cubs would at least explore the possibility of landing him, especially if the Cubs can move Soriano this winter and Upton’s asking price stays below $10M. It’s not the likeliest signing for the Cubs, but offering a 2 or 3-year deal with the option to trade Upton before his early 30’s would be awfully sweet.
-Grady Sizemore (30): A three-time All Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner, a Silver Slugger Award and a four-time recipient of AL MVP votes. So what’s the catch? A long list of nagging and major injuries, that’s what. Sizemore has been plagued by significant injury setbacks over the past four seasons, including having sat out this year entirely. Yet, we’ve seen what Sizemore can do when healthy. And while it’s fair to imagine his latest knee and back aliments will limit him from being the player he once was, there’s an equally good chance he could still be pretty darn good. The best part is the Cubs won’t need to take much of a financial risk to find out. Grady is expected to fetch a one-year incentive-laden deal this offseason. That’s perfect for the Cubs to jump at the chance to upgrade its outfield depth and potentially land what could be a lucrative trade chip come July 31 next season. It’s a classic buy-low, sell-high move with no guaranteed money involved. The hardest part, of course, is the Cubs will have plenty of competition to sign his services.
-Cody Ross (32): It’s a bit puzzling Cody hasn’t found a permanent home having played for six different teams during his nine-year career. He’s an above average fielder who plays all three outfield spots well. He’s averaged 22 HR per-season and has driven in as many as 90 RBI. Ross has also shown a knack for hitting in the clutch, won the 2010 NLCS MVP Award and was a huge factor during the Giants’ World Series championship. What Ross doesn’t do particularly well is draw walks. Instead, he’s been somewhat of a strikeout master having averaged 126 K’s per-season. That, obviously, is in direct contrast to the patient hitting approach Team Theo is seeking to add to the Cubs’ roster. But, is it possible a proven winner like Ross would be willing to adapt to the Cubs’ new grind-it-out plate mentality? I think so. Although, that’s a super risky proposition–paying a player with the notion he’ll need to change his game when neither side can be certain of the outcome. But the risk sure beats seeing Joe Mather in the lineup, especially for what could be an affordable 1 or 2-year deal in the range of $3M.
-Reed Johnson (36): I know what you’re thinking…I’m a Cubs softy thinking with my heart instead of my brain. That may be true to some degree, but there are positives you can’t ignore about Johnson despite his old age. He’s the upmost professional who plays the game the right way and sets a positive example for not just the younger guys, but for all his fellow teammates. Yes, his body has been worn ragged over the years with his all-out style of play, which limits his everyday availability. But…we do know Reed loves playing for the Cubs, and we know the youthful Cubs need leadership, and we’ve seen Johnson develop into one of the best, if not the best, pinch-hitters in the game. His positive impact on the team would far exceed what the Cubs would have to pay to bring him back, and even so, it would only need to be for one more year.
This is the first of a two-part series addressing possible free-agent signings for the Cubs’ entering the 2013 season. This article addresses FA pitchers, the second article covers FA position players…
Eventually, Tom Ricketts will open his wallet and invite the game’s top free-agents to join the Cubs. But until Team Theo builds Ricketts’ team into a contender, which will take a few more years, the free-agent ‘A-listers’ remain a pie in the sky.
In the meantime, however, the Cubs will look to sign mid-tier free-agents to round out its roster for the 2013 season. Below is a list of potential FA that could fit the Cubs’ needs for next season. (Player age listed in parenthesis)
-Brandon McCarthy (29): Career record (37-39, 4.02) He’s statistically improved with age while becoming somewhat of a stat-head paying close attention to sabermetrics, which shouldn’t hurt his chances with the Cubs’ new front office. The Cubs could land him with a deal similar to what they gave Paul Maholm last year: 1-yr, $4.75M with a club option, that is, assuming McCarthy returns to full health following his recent emergency brain surgery after being hit in the head on a come-backer.
-Anibal Sanchez (29): Career record (46-50, 3.79). The high price tag of $8.0M he’s due this season isn’t in the Cubs’ favor, and they shouldn’t spend as much on a guy who’s been good, but mostly inconsistent throughout his career. But if the price is right, the Cubs could find a pitcher with his best days still ahead.
-Chris Young (34): Career record (53-41, 3.81). The tall right-hander (6′ 10″) hasn’t been the same since Albert Pujols lined a ball off his face in May of 2008. Additionally, Young’s been hampered by arm injuries limiting his starts to just 25-games over the past three seasons. There’s definitely some risk with signing him, but he is affordable and could be had for less than a million bucks.
I view the bullpen as the Cubs’ greatest area of need entering next season. I’ve listed the possible FA candidates by age.
-JP Howell (28): Career record (21-23, 4.42). In 2008 the Rays transitioned Howell from the rotation to the bullpen, the results of which, have been promising. The lefty has been a key cog in Tampa’s pen and shows signs he’ll only get better. After a disappointing year in 2011 (6.16 ERA), Howell has bounced back to form this year posting a 2.89 ERA. A lefty like this won’t come on the cheap, but with the kid entering his prime a multi-year deal around $6M could get the deal done.
-Carlos Villanueva (29): Career record (33-33, 4.14) He’s the rare, but convenient, starter/reliever type that could make sense for Chicago. He’s made 13 spot-starts in each of the past two seasons while also being a serviceable arm in the bullpen. A deal of $3 M or less wouldn’t be bad for utility arm like Villanueva’s.
-Matt Capps (29): He saved 42-games between Washington and Minnesota two years ago, but shoulder inflammation has burdened him since 2011 and squashed the Twins’ hopes of trading him this past July. The Cubs would be buying low and at a risk; and anything more than $2M is probably too much to fork over. Whether or not Capps remains closer material is up for debate, but the Cubs do need someone to close if they still intend to deal Marmol this winter.
-Brandon League (30): He saved 37-games last season and made the All Star team for Seattle. The Mariners traded League to the Dodgers this July where’s he’s performing on-par with his 2011 season. He’s likely going to cost more than what the Cubs want to spend, especially to join the rebuild, but for $5M or less Chicago could pull the trigger.
-Mark Lowe (30): Injuries have plagued the Rangers’ right-hander the past two seasons. He has, however, rebounded nicely posting a 2.61 ERA over 34-games in 2012. His injury history may limit his price enough the Cubs could land him with a deal around $2M.
-Ramon Ramirez (31): Career record (23-20, 3.32). A rolling stone; Mets, Rockies, Royals, Red Sox and now the Giants. Surprising because he’s been good for around 70-games and 60-innings throughout his career. Consistency appears to be an issue, but a rubber-arm like his would be awfully valuable to the Cubs for $3M or less.
-Francisco Rodriguez (31): Career 2.71 ERA & 294 saves. His second season in Milwaukee has been the worst of his career (2-7, 4.37). After leaving Anaheim to sign his mega-deal with the Mets paying him $12M, the Brewers chopped it to $8M last season in a surprising move to resign K-Rod, who expressed his unhappiness as a set-up man to John Axford. Milwaukee won’t make the same mistake twice, and given his poor season, the Cubs could also try cutting his pay. I’ve got to believe K-Rod is better than he’s shown this season, and for $6M it’s a chance the Cubs should take to give K-Rod the closer’s role.
-Clay Hensley (33): He’s been hot & cold during his tenure with the Marlins and Giants. A 2.16 ERA in 2010 preceded his 5.19 ERA last season. This year he’s (4-3, 4.37). Hensley’s not the sexiest pick on the list, but he’s certainly within the Cubs’ price range for $1M or less.
-Mike Adams (34): He’s been a stud throughout his eight-year career. Although his age is a concern, it wouldn’t hurt the Cubs’ young bullpen to have a veteran around the likes of Adams. The hard part is, Adams has been so good for Texas the past two season, it’s hard to believe he would sign with a rebuilding franchise. I’m guessing he’ll fetch somewhere around $7-9M, and likely more to be enticed to join the Cubs. Not likely, of course, but if age keeps other contenders from giving Adams the deal he wants, the Cubs could splurge some to land him. A huge coup if it were to happen.
-Juan Cruz (34): Yes, the former Cub! (2001-’03). He pitched really well for Tampa last season in 58-games (5-0, 3.88). And this season he’s been a major contributor for the Pirates’ strong bullpen appearing in 43-games going (1-1, 2.78). Cruz is probably looking at a deal worth $2-3M, which is within the Cubs’ budget for a mid-level FA. It might take more to get him to join a 100-loss team, but the price would be well worth it for a reliable short-term fix.
-Jeremy Affeldt (34): He’s an 11-year veteran and good clubhouse guy who’s certain to field plenty of offers because, well, he’s left-handed. Affeldt’s averaged 60-plus games per-season since 2007 and put up terrific numbers the past two season with San Francisco: 2.63 ERA 2011 & 2.65 ERA this year. I expect Affeldt to land a deal more than $5M, and at his age it’s unlikely he wants to join the lowly Cubs. At best, it’s a stretch to think the Cubs would even get a meeting with his agent this winter…unless they’re willing to over-spend to get him, which doesn’t make sense, but could happen. Good left-handed relief is hard to find, and aside from James Russell, the Cubs really don’t have any.
-Mike Gonzalez (35): We saw plenty of this guy while he broke in with the Pirates to start his career. Ever since, however, the hard-throwing lefty has battled injuries which ultimately limited him to just 7-games with the Rangers in 2011 before undergoing knee surgery. He’s made a nice recovery with the Nationals this season posting a 2.73 ERA in 39-games, and like Affeldt, he’s older, but left-handed, which means there should be plenty of good offers available. But being long in the tooth with a history of nagging injuries should keep his price tag under $6M. That’s probably more than the Cubs are willing to spend, but again, he’s a solid southpaw and the Cubs need all the help they can get for its patch-work bullpen–even if it comes with some risk.
How about a hat-tip to Darwin Barney for breaking Ryne Sandberg’s NL record 123-consecutive games errorless streak Saturday night at Pittsburgh.
The new record came and went without much fanfare, but there’s nothing cheap about Barney’s streak. He’s been the best fielding second baseman in the NL this season while showing he’s not just Gold Glove worthy, but the clear-cut winner.
The streak is but one example of how far Barney has come as a defender since arriving with the Cubs in 2010. Having already matched his games played at second base from a season ago (135), Barney has 11 fewer errors, turned 17 more double plays and improved his Range Factor from 4.92 to 5.15.
He played another clean game on Sunday continuing his streak to 125-consecutive games without an error–a run which began in mid-April and has spanned more than 1,000 innings. And with 22-games remaining this season, it’s still possible Barney could surpass Placido Polanco’s major league record of 141-straight games without an error at second base.
The bat, of course, hasn’t been as consistent for Barney. But given his encouraging work ethic to improve his fielding, there’s hope he’ll eventually come around at the plate, too.
Not everyone agrees Darwin will remain a staple of the Cubs’ rebuild, and that might remain true. Team Theo, after all, did explore dealing him at the July 31 trade deadline.
But even if Barney only improves marginally on offense, it’s still hard to depart from a solid Gold Glove defender up the middle, especially considering the Cubs’ thin pitching staff heading into 2013.
Additionally, Barney turns 27 in November beginning his prime years as a ballplayer. He’s shown not only the ability to improve his game at the highest level, but has done so while maintaining his high-character and winning attitude on a dreadful team, no less.
There’s simply a lot to like about this kid. And while he may not have been the answer Cubs fans were looking for at second base this spring, there’s really no reason to think he won’t be the answer moving forward.