By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) A Gold Glove couldn’t save him, because that sort of hardware doesn’t matter around here anymore. Darwin Barney was designated for assignment by the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday in favor of the youth movement on the cusp of exploding at Wrigley Field.
The news yesterday certainly seemed to crush one fan in attendance.
Barney’s exit, unceremonious as it is, is a watershed for Cubdom. It marks the symbolic end of one of the last Jim Hendry tentacles suctioned on the hull of the progressive ship Epstoyer as it charges through the choppy waves of antiquated scouting and centrifugal player development. One that left the Cubs farm system bereft of talent for so long and got fans excited for call-ups of prospects that pale in comparison to the names being excitedly mentioned today.
Residue of Hendry still remains in Starlin Castro, Welington Castillo and Junior Lake, but Castro is one of the few Hendry finds to actually blossom (after some head shrinking by the new regime), Castillo is a competent-to-expendable catcher and Lake is a guy to whom major league tape caught up to quickly with little sign of positive adjustment. Arismendy Alcantara was also brought in by Hendry, but — like Javier Baez, the resurgent Castro and the seemingly broken Lake — he wasn’t exactly developed by Hendry, which is where deserved credit is due to the new regime.
But Barney was one of Hendry’s special little toys. I have to warn you — what you are about to read may cause a reaction ranging from asphyxiation from laughter or serious injury from an induced rage episode and/or seizure. This from Hendry on July 19, 2011:
“Why would we trade anybody who we think is going to help us next year or the years after? I would say if we move anyone it would be somebody we clearly knew wouldn’t be back. We’re not going to move people that we think are going to help us. Why would I trade Sean Marshall? Why would I trade Darwin Barney? Those calls kind of stop quickly. It makes no sense.”
Three days after that quote, Hendry was informed he wouldn’t be returning as Cubs general manager after the season. Marshall, for good measure, became Dave Sappelt (who became gone), Ronald Torreyes (who became two international signing slots from the Astros) and Travis Wood (who became a solid starting rotation guy/maybe trade bait) following a December 2011 trade to the Reds, for whom he’s pitched 85 1/3 innings and had multiple DL stints with.
By all accounts Barney is nothing short of a good guy and solid teammate. Anthony Rizzo called him the best teammate he has ever had. Barney also holds a .625 career OPS. Meanwhile, Arismendy Alcantara hit a ball 420 feet on Tuesday night, presumably farther than any ball Barney has ever hit and leaving him just 16 home runs shy of Barney’s career total.
It was his glove that kept Barney as a barely above replacement-level player, and being a nice guy with a Gold Glove and locker room intangibles plus a dollar also gets you on the bus out of town. For a front office hell-bent on shedding an attachment to anything warm and fuzzy and simply winning, the 28-year-old ultra-light bat is its antithesis. Barney was liked by some because he does one thing between the lines well, a microcosm of Cub fan culture that has long appreciated mediocre guys with justifications of “But at least he…”
“You find that you get more satisfaction out of defense because defenses work,” Barney once said. “You know, hitting is you get on streaks, and it’s a flow, and sometimes it’s a team thing. But when you’re playing defense it’s something that you spend a lot of hours sweating and working on. You know, I’ve always said I’d rather take an 0-4 with no errors and help the team out on defense than getting a couple of hits and making an error.”
Hitting isn’t “a team thing.” It is something that also requires hours of sweating and working on. But Darwin Barney is happy to not be Starlin Castro. And now he’s gone, hopefully in exchange for at least a marginal minor leaguer somewhere that doesn’t look like a serial killer. (That is if he still has any trade value left like the nerds had thought.)
Perhaps some fans will be hesitant to let go of a name they’re so used to hearing just prior to making an out. It’s hard to let go, I know.
But as important as it is to look forward rather than backward …
Help I can't breathe pic.twitter.com/lhqRv6hCm7— Sarah Kelly (@thesarahkelly) July 23, 2014
…this is a move that creates necessary playing time for Alcantara between second base and the outfield and gets this Cubs team that much more Hendry-less. It corresponds to the promotions of prospects Jorge Soler and Albert Almora to the next minor league level and the continued examination of Javier Baez at second base in Iowa. So as not to be completely cold to this important moment in Chicago sports history, I leave you with some Barney breakup glove love and the immortal words of Jeremih off of “My Time” by Fabolous.
“Go hard today. Can’t worry about the past cause that was yesterday. I’ma put it on the line cause it’s my time. Hey, hey, hey, hey. I gotta stay on my grind cause it’s my time.”
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.