With Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy kicked off third base in favor of Mike Olt, per our discussion last week, they instead are likely to receive at least some of their infield time at second base. The question at second base is well known: will the Cubs hand the job to their second baseman of the last three seasons, defensive stalwart but offensive lightweight Darwin Barney, or instead turn the position over to someone who is almost guaranteed to be a defensive downgrade, but with higher upside at the plate?
As a note, and this is something I should have included last week, I am only discussing players that the Cubs are actually considering for 25 man roster spots at this point in time. Since the Cubs optioned Arismendy Alcantara to Iowa last week, he isn’t on this list. The same goes for Logan Watkins. Javier Baez will not appear on this list either, as everyone knows he will be starting the season in Iowa.
2013 Statistics: 555 PAs, .206/.266/.303, .252 wOBA, 51 wRC+, 7 HRs, 6.5% walk rate, 11.5% strikeout rate, .222 BABIP, 0.4fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 596 PAs, .253/.299/.349, .286 wOBA, 74 wRC+, 6 HRs, 5.4% walk rate, 11.6% strikeout rate, .278 BABIP, 1.4 fWAR
2013 statistics: 391 PAs, .218/.331/.378, .315 wOBA, 95 wRC+, 12 HRs, 13.6% walk rate, 16.1% strikeout rate, .233 BABIP, 2.0 fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 481 PAs, .241/.325/.376, .311 wOBA, 92 wRC+, 11 HRs, 10.6% walk rate, 20% strikeout rate, .285 BABIP, 1.7 fWAR
2013 statistics: 163 PAs, .255/.319/.530, .366 wOBA, 130 wRC+, 11 HRs, 4.9% walk rate, 29.4% strikeout rate, .300 BABIP, 0.8 fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 350 PAs, .229/.291/.417, .310 wOBA, 91 wRC+, 13 HRs, 6% walk rate, 26.3% strikeout rate, .278 BABIP, 0.6 fWAR
2013 statistics: 461 PAs, .243/.295/.331, .279 wOBA, 71 wRC+, 3 HRs, 6.5% walk rate, 22.3% strikeout rate, .312 BABIP, 0.6 fWAR
2014 ZiPS projection: 451 PAs, .258/.315/.339, .292 wOBA, 80 wRC+, 3 HRs, 7.5% walk rate, 19.3% strikeout rate, .319 BABIP, 0.7 fWAR
THE LIKELY OPENING DAY STARTER:
Darwin Barney. But that’s because the Cubs are likely to face the left handed Francisco Liriano on opening day. I think that, over the first half of the season, Luis Valbuena will see the majority of the starts at least through the All Star Break, with Barney starting against left handed pitchers. Even if Barney’s BABIP regresses to the mean and he returns to something like his 2012 numbers, Valbuena’s combination of walks and power (well, power at least when compared to Barney) make him a greatly superior offensive player, especially at second base.
For example, while Valbuena’s 95 wRC+ in 2013 would have ranked 19th among third basemen with enough at bats to qualify for the batting title (Valbuena did not have enough because he missed some time due to injury), it would have been 14th among second basemen. If Valbuena can play even an average second base, he would have significantly more trade value as a versatile infielder who can be the left handed part of a platoon than Barney could accumulate when Baez or Alcantara are ready for the show.
WHO I THINK SHOULD BE THE OPENING DAY STARTER
I think the Cubs would be playing this one right with a Valbuena/Barney platoon. Valbuena won’t be Barney defensively, but he should at least be fringe average. Barney’s offensive deficiencies should be hid a bit by getting the majority of his plate appearances against left handed pitching, against whom he has hit .263/.313/.381 against, compared to just .241/.287/.321 against right handed pitching.
I find Bonifacio interesting, and I know a lot of fans want his speed in the lineup, but he’s a Mark DeRosa type, but with speed instead of power. There’s no position he is really good at, but he’s serviceable at a host of positions. As such, I prefer him in a utility player role, where he will get starts all over the field, including as a right handed hitting option in the outfield (Bonifacio is a switch hitter) against left handed starters. If Bonifacio puts up an OBP north of .330, though, he’ll force himself into the lineup nearly every day, one way or the other.
Regarding Murphy, he may be the odd man out in terms of playing time. I just do not see the Cubs sitting Barney’s glove against left handed pitchers to play Murphy, who would be a pretty awful defensive second baseman if he had to play there regularly.
The real excitement at second base, though, won’t come until midseason, when we will have good odds of seeing one of the Cubs’ top 5 or 6 prospects at the position.