As we sit today, the Cubs have a pretty well stocked system of position prospects. With Starlin Castro being under contract for the next six years, there is one infielder whose value is tied to what he can bring back in a potential trade…and that infielder is Darwin Barney.
With Emilio Bonifacio and Logan Watkins available to play second in the interim, and the possibility of either Javier Baez or Arismendy Alcantara becoming the long term starter there, Darwin’s place is most likely suited to be a utility infielder on a team who is short that one piece and trying to win right now. He brings the things that championship level clubs want: hustle, energy, effort, and elite defense up the middle. With the Cubs not being at that point, yet, and having a strong group of potential replacements waiting in the wings, this is the right time to explore the opportunity to move him and push the rebuilding effort further along.
The good news is, there are teams where that scenario fits pretty well. There are teams who can absolutely use him right now, who are identified as the strongest suitors, and some who could be in the market for a player like him if they have an injury or if the want to add a player who has some experience in an area of extreme youth.
The Strongest Suitors:
1. New York Yankees
Does anyone here have any faith that Brian Roberts and Derek Jeter can stay healthy for a whole season? That’s just crazy. It would be ridiculous for them not to have at least some contingency plan. Because they have a pretty strong offensive team around him, Darwin could fill in nicely to give those players a day off or fill in if (but let’s be real…when) either Roberts or Jeter lands on the DL.
Reasonable Return: LHP Manny Banuelos
The former top prospect missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery after the 2012 season. Before his injury, he had some issues with his command. When healthy he features a fastball, curve, and change that all have the potential of being above average. He’s exactly the type of buy low lottery ticket that Theo Epstein has sought in his time with the Cubs. He could contribute in the bullpen, if not in the rotation, as soon as this season if he can come back healthy and harness his stuff.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
The fit here is the same reason there is such a good fit with the Yankees. Neither Chase Utley nor Jimmy Rollins should be counted on for their ability to stay healthy as their age progresses. The Phillies come with an added piece that makes the fit so solid… Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg managed Darwin in the minor leagues and Darwin credits him with his successful transition to second base. That familiarity and respect can only help the consummation of a deal between these two teams.
Reasonable Return: RHP Ethan Martin
Martin was a 2008 first round pick by the Dodgers, who was acquired in the Shane Victorino trade. ESPN’s Keith Law says that Martin is a reliever, but he is a reliever with a big fastball, which can hit 97 on the gun with a cutting slider as his next best offering. He’s a talented pitcher who’s had command issues holding him back. It is the big fastball that would make him attractive to the Cubs. Jed Hoyer said last summer that failed starters often make the best relievers. Well, Jed…here it is.
3. Atlanta Braves
With Dan Uggla and Tyler Pastornicky, the Braves could use another complement to Andrelton Simmons. Darwin Barney doesn’t necessarily need to provide a ton of offense, as the Braves were in the middle of the pack last season in runs scored. He does provide a defensive upgrade over Uggla, who has a career dWAR of -3.9 and Pastornicky, who was replacement level defensively last season.
Reasonable Return: Mark Lamm
Lamm was a sixth round draft pick in 2011 out of Vanderbilt, which is where Cubs’ Minor League Pitching Coordinator Derek Johnson was the pitching coach. He’s been a closer in the Braves’ system, featuring a sinking fastball and a slider. His numbers have been solid in the minors, posting a 2.91 ERA between AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett last season. With a reasonably young bullpen at the major league level, the Braves may be willing to part with Lamm, however, in order to add an inexpensive infielder who can contribute at the major league level right away.
4. Cincinnati Reds
With Skip Schumaker in tow, this is a bit of a tougher sell. My target is Zack Cozart, though. His .252/.287/.393 in the hitter friendly Great American Ballpark doesn’t excite me any more than Darwin’s .246/.293/.336 in the unpredictable Wrigley Field. If last year proves to be a fluke bad luck season for Barney, the numbers are decidedly in his favor. Defensively, Cozart is no slouch. This is the one place where I am going to argue that Darwin Barney is an offensive upgrade. Shocking, I know.
Reasonable Return: LHP Amir Garrett
Garrett was a 22nd round pick in 2011. He’s only thrown 77.2 innings in professional baseball, though, because he spent time on the St. John’s University basketball team. At 6’5″, 210 pounds, he’s a big kid with a nice arm. He’s also very raw. Scouts love the undeniable talent, which is what makes him attractive, but it’s not a stretch to think the Reds give up a talented kid who is a minimum of two years away for a player they can plug in right now to help push them past the Cardinals and Pirates in the NL Central.
The O’s aren’t the spend big type, and they don’t have very much infield depth behind J.J. Hardy and Ryan Flaherty. Darwin Barney can help this team, but since they don’t figure to be massively competitive in the AL East, they may stand still with what they have going into the season and make a move at the deadline if they’re still in the mix.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox won a championship with chemistry and experience last season. Their infield lacks experience at this point, with Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts projected to start on Opening Day. They added Jonathan Herrera as a super utility player from the Colorado Rockies this off-season, but his value is almost entirely offensive. Darwin Barney provides a nice defensive option, and his ability to turn on a pitch would play well off the Monster. Also, rumor has it Theo knows these guys pretty well, so…
Los Angeles Dodgers
This team has all of the offense it can handle. They also have Dee Gordon to fill in the middle infield back-up roles behind Hanley Ramirez and Alex Guerrero . They are one injury away from being a suitor, though. They’re a team to keep an eye on. With their payroll of $LOLWUT, they’ve set their sights on a championship. That’s just the kind of team that Theo might want to talk to if they should suddenly have an opening.