Cubs core: Barney in the running for Gold Glove

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Cubs core: Barney in the running for Gold Glove

In Theo Epsteins mind, players can be divided into two categories: Those who are part of the core, and those who are not.

Its not always that neat or simple some are marked only by potential, others are contingent upon specific improvements to their game and some could ultimately be used as trading chips once the Cubs are in a win-now mode.

But this has been the big idea during the first year of the Epstein administration, and it will continue that way on the North Side in 2013.

The offseason officially began late Sunday night, when the San Francisco Giants looked like a potential dynasty by finishing off the Detroit Tigers and winning their second World Series in the past three years.

Shaping the nucleus of a team that could go on that kind of run is Epsteins No. 1 goal this winter. The Cubs president already thinks Darwin Barney could be one of those guys.

More validation could come Tuesday, when the Gold Glove winners are revealed at 8 p.m. on ESPN2. Rawlings announced Barney as a finalist on Monday, along with Brandon Phillips (Cincinnati Reds) and Aaron Hill (Arizona Diamondbacks) at second base, as voted by managers and coaches.

Phillips has won two consecutive Gold Gloves at the position as well as three in the past four years and wasnt shy saying this in late September: Everybody knows Im the best defensive second baseman.

While defensive metrics are imperfect, Barney (.997) has the edge over Phillips (.992) and Hill (.992) in fielding percentage. According to FanGraphs.com, Barney (13.1) also outperformed Phillips (8.1) and Hill (4.6) in terms of UZR.

Barney has already won a Fielding Bible Award, as an almost unanimous selection as the best defensive second baseman in the majors, from a panel that included Bill James, Doug Glanville and Peter Gammons. The Fielding Bible calculated that Barney led all second basemen with 28 runs saved, or 17 more than Phillips.

In the future, manager Dale Sveum thinks the Cubs could potentially have an infield anchored by three Gold Glove winners, as Barney develops more chemistry with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo and they enter their prime.

The big hole remains at third base, where the Cubs still have not found a replacement for Aramis Ramirez. Certain segments of the fan base and the media even some inside the organization loved to rip Ramirez, who generated 27 homers and 105 RBI and emerged as a Gold Glove finalist during his first year with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Ramirez didnt go out of his way to be a leader, he had trouble staying on the field and he didnt earn extra hustle points. But he produced when he was healthy, and was perceptive when he turned to Barney one day during batting practice at Wrigley Field late in the 2010 season.

Rami was the guy (in 2010) who said: Look, you have an opportunity to play second base every day next year, Barney once recalled. It was something I never thought about and I kind of was questioning it. He said: Look, you can hit. You can play. And those kind of things people dont get to see.

Already a game-changer defensively, the Cubs expect Barney (.299 on-base percentage) to become more of what they like to call a two-way player. He will turn 27 next month and still has the leadership qualities that made him a glue guy on the Oregon State University teams that won back-to-back College World Series titles.

Now its just a sort of small continued progress offensively, Epstein said. If he gets on base a little bit more, when you look at what he does defensively and his intangibles, he can be a guy that we lean on, too.

Barney grabbed headlines by going 141 straight games without an error at second base, tying Placido Polanco for the major-league, single-season record and making the rest of the league pay attention.

Except for Phillips, who said he didnt know about the streak when a reporter mentioned it before the Reds clinched their division title: Oh, really, thats cool. Thats nice. Honestly, Ive been too busy winning.

With that, here are the National Leagues Gold Glove finalists:

Pitcher
Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds
Mark Buehrle, Miami Marlins
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Catcher
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks
Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies

First base
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

Second base
Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs
Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds

Third base
Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
David Wright, New York Mets

Shortstop
Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins
Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies

Left field
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves

Center field
Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati Reds

Right field
Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

MESA, Ariz. – Inside Wrigley Field’s state-of-the-art clubhouse, the Cubs posted a blown-up image of the 2015 Sports Illustrated cover where Pedro Strop is high-stepping next to Kris Bryant down the third-base line, the mosh pit awaiting at home plate.

Between his tilted-hat look, chest-pounding celebrations and overall joy for the game, Strop sets an example for the younger guys in the bullpen and the Latin players in the clubhouse. Strop has been so valuable that Jake Arrieta could have never thrown a pitch in a Cubs uniform and Theo Epstein’s front office still would have considered the Scott Feldman trade with the Baltimore Orioles an absolute success.  

Yet when the long rebuild reached its apex – and manager Joe Maddon searched for World Series answers – Strop had already been marginalized in the bullpen. A freak injury – Strop heard a pop and tore the meniscus in his left knee while trying to slide and field a groundball in August – bumped him from his role as the seventh- or eighth-inning stopper.  

“It was a little difficult,” Strop said. “After I came back from my surgery, it was a different situation. But it’s something that you got to get used to and understand the situation, understand how deep our bullpen is and just go and fight whenever they ask you to.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”  

During Sunday’s media session, Maddon dismissed any issues with Strop (2.85 ERA) or Hector Rondon, the former 30-save closer who strained his right triceps last summer and didn’t quite get his timing down for the playoffs. Down 3-1 in the World Series, Maddon summoned Aroldis Chapman to throw 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Cleveland Indians.

“Listen, it’s not a lack of trust,” Maddon said. “(Strop) just got hurt. And when you get hurt like that at that time of the year, it’s hard to play catch-up. When guys get injured in-season and you get to the moment where you’re trying to win a championship, you got to put like personal feelings aside on both sides of it, whether you’re managing it or playing.

“I have nothing but trust. My God, the threat is when you have him, you want to use him too much, always. And the same thing with Ronnie. I talked to Ronnie about that – I don’t want to put him in a position. I think Rondon got hurt last year because part of it was my greediness on using him too much in the early part of the season.

“You really have to battle against that when you get guys that good. You want to use them all the time. (I have) a tremendous amount of trust in both of those guys. It’s just a matter of utilizing them properly and keeping them healthy.”

[MORE: What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez]

Since the middle of the 2013 season, Strop has notched 84 holds for the Cubs, putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 0.984 WHIP to go with 254 strikeouts in 211-plus innings. At a time when a $10 billion industry is reassessing the value of high-leverage relievers, Strop will make $5.5 million this year before hitting the open market.

“You never know,” Strop said. “I would love to repeat the championship season and win another one here before I hit free agency. Hopefully, they want to bring me back. I really like the city of Chicago. I love the fans and I love my team and the coaches.

“After this season, it’s going to become business, so hopefully we can put something together.”  

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

MESA, Ariz. – In an alternate universe, Javier Baez might have become the goat after committing two errors in a World Series Game 7. But the young Cubs played without a sense of panic and wanted to write their own history.

Baez shrugged it off in Cleveland and homered off Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber that night. Baez will be remembered as a breakout star from those playoffs, a game-changing defensive force with his mixture of lateral range, rocket-arm strength and instincts for tagging.

But there have also been times where manager Joe Maddon would like Baez to be a little more boring. The next stage of Javy Being Javy would be showing more of the consistency that made Addison Russell an All-Star shortstop at the age of 22. It may also partially explain why Maddon for now still sees Ben Zobrist as his primary second baseman, even after Baez started all 17 postseason games at that position.  

“You definitely continually speak about (how) you want guys to make the routine play routinely,” Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “I’ve often talked about lack of chrome. Gary DiSarcina (with the Angels) was the guy that really embedded that thought in my head, because he was so chrome-less and he was so good at the routine play. I used to always yell that at my infielders in instructional league: ‘No chrome!’

“Having said all that, Javy comes from a different background, and he has a flair about his game, so I don’t necessarily want to subtract that. But just have him understand the routine stuff has to be made routinely well.

“He’s very capable of that. I think as his game continues to develop and mature, you’ll see him make less mistakes, whether it’s that or sometimes even on the bases. He’ll make a spectacular play on the bases and then again do something that you don’t like. But I think that’s just part of his nature and his game.” 

Zobrist delivered a World Series MVP performance after signing a four-year, $56 million contract last winter with the idea that focusing on one position – instead of moving around as a super-utility guy – would help him age better.

“Last year, I played 147 games,” said Zobrist, who will turn 36 in May. “I don’t know what that number’s going to look like. You got to stay healthy. There were probably only a few games that I missed because there was physically something that was keeping me from playing.

“We’ll play it by ear. Some of those will have to do with if I’m a little tired and the matchup is right, maybe they’ll choose to give me an off day on certain days. But I know that there’s other times last year where – whether you’re tired or not – you got to be in there because that’s the matchup that works best for the club. So just make adjustments as the weeks and series go on.”

[MORE: After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as late-game force]

Maddon is already thinking of ways to rest Zobrist – who played into early November after helping the 2015 Royals win the World Series – on a team with so many versatile athletes. The Cubs could also try to go back to last year’s model, putting Baez wherever their scouting-and-data projections predicted the ball would be hit most that night.

“We have to balance a lot of different things out,” Maddon said. “(Javy’s) going to play some second, of course, and so will Zo. Zo’s going to be out there primarily, and then we’ll work Javy in there. But Zo can also do what he’s done in the past and play some outfield.

“What happens – and I hate to say it like (this) – but baseball has a very cruel way of determining things. I don’t want it to be any injuries. I’d rather have to figure all of this stuff out on a daily basis. Javy was so significant to the conclusion of last season. He’s going to be very significant again this year and years to come.

“It’s all in theory right now. Of course, he’s going to play. Of course, he’s going to play a lot. How it’s going to balance out? We’re not 100 percent sure yet. But he’s pretty darned good.”