- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs made the right choice in tendering second baseman Darwin Barney a contract for 2014. If there was any angst over the decision, there shouldn't have been, because Barney deserves another chance.
Make no mistake, if No. 1 prospect Javier Baez was ready for the big leagues and the Cubs believed second base was where he needed to play, that would mean a different story for Barney. Same goes for rising prospect Arismendy Alcantara. Some may even think Logan Watkins deserves a real chance at second base. Watkins was an on-base machine in the minors before being recalled last season, but he barely got off the bench. And for all we know, he'll push Barney this spring or summer.
But until further notice, Barney gets another chance to rebound from a rough season at the plate in which he hit just .208 and got on base only 27 percent of the time. The simple reason is Dale Sveum and the old coaching staff. If Sveum and Co. are going to be blamed for the "regression" of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, then Barney fits into that category as well.
In fact, going back to last offseason, Sveum may have worked more closely with Barney than Rizzo or Castro. The bottom line is Barney hit .276 the season before Sveum arrived. He hit .254 and .208 in the two years under him. It would be way too simplistic to put that all on Sveum, but Barney deserves a fresh start with a new coaching staff just like Rizzo and Castro.
And even with some poor numbers, he has shown some signs. He'll battle an opposing pitcher with the best of them -- he was third in the league in foul ball percentage at 43.6 percent, according to ESPN Stats and Information. With two strikes he fouled a pitch off 47.6 percent of the time, tops in the league. It's a good reason why he's only struck out an average of 63 times in three full seasons in the big leagues.
But those foul balls don't mean much -- other than driving up a pitch count -- if the at-bat ends in an unproductive out. And Barney actually fouls off more pitches (46 percent) outside the zone than inside (42 percent). Maybe that's where his upside lies or perhaps his deficiency. All players get hits off pitches outside the zone, or at least take more walks than Barney's 36 last season. So a few more balls that go forward instead of backward could make the difference for him as will laying off a few of those outside the zone. And Barney's seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 2013 aren't bad for a hitter who mostly bats in the eighth spot in the lineup. In fact, only Matt Dominguez of the Houston Astros had more runs driven in from that position in the order than Barney.
Of course, Barney doesn't get another chance at the plate without his work in the field. As bad as he was on offense, he was a Gold Glove winner as well as a finalist at second base in two years under Sveum. That counts for more than just a passing mention. If Sveum gets some blame for Barney's offense then his coaching staff gets some credit for mentally keeping him in the game on defense. FanGraphs basically has Barney as the best defensive second baseman in the game over the past two years. So for Barney to be an effective overall player he only has to return to respectability at the plate.
Unless something unexpected happens, expect the Cubs to sign him for 2014. After that, there are no guarantees. But he deserves another chance to improve at the plate.
At least for a while.
There were no major surprises during Monday's tender deadline.
The Cubs signed their new backup catcher in George Kottaras after Dioner Navarro joined the Toronto Blue Jays. Navarro wanted a multiyear deal and the Cubs wouldn't give more than one. That has basically been their philosophy lately. If you're not part of the core for the future the Cubs aren't going to be locking you up.
Infielder Donnie Murphy fits into that category and between his signing and the Cubs tendering Luis Valbuena a contract, it made Mat Gamel expendable. According to sources, Murphy had a lucrative offer from Japan after hitting 11 home runs in less than two months last season. An arbitration hearing would have been unique considering his short but successful stay in the majors in 2013, so instead, both sides decided to lock him up. But again, it's for one year.
With prospects Baez, Alcantara, Kris Bryant, Mike Olt and others getting ready to break into the majors, one-year deals is the norm right now. And that's the right thing to do.