Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010
By Patrick Mooney
ST. LOUIS The Cubs have used three managers to put eight different players in the leadoff spot this season. Before heading off into retirement, Lou Piniella mentioned that a presence at the top of the order is one piece the organization needs to identify in the future.
The daily questions about the lineup wore on Piniella, who was even asked if he thought about moving Alfonso Soriano back up to leadoff as the Cubs struggled to score runs this season.
Only one player in the National League woke up Wednesday morning with more than 33 stolen bases. There was Houstons Michael Bourn atop the leader board with 50.
Twenty-five years ago at the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis, that would essentially amount to a first half of the season for Vince Coleman, who led the league with 110 in 1985.
The game goes in cycles and it has phased out players like Juan Pierre. If the Cubs are stretching to find one, then they are in line with the rest of the industry.
When Mike Quade took over the team on Aug. 23, he looked at the numbers, saw Blake DeWitts on-base percentage (.360) and put him at the top of the order. It wasnt a permanent move because Quade plays matchups.
Jeff Bakers .346 average (47-for-136) against left-handers means he will hit there as well. It is a narrow window into a managers mix-and-match philosophy.
Qs not afraid to think outside the box, Baker said. I dont have the prototypical leadoff speed, but at the same time, Im going to try to make an aggressive base-running move and (get on base) against those lefties.
Bakers gone 11-for-24 (.458) in the six games hes hit leadoff since Aug. 29. At the age of 29, he doesnt want to be thought of as a platoon player. He can be used at three infield positions as well as play the outfield, which would make him a useful piece for the 2011 roster, though not a long-term answer at leadoff.
Versatility it can be a blessing and it can be a curse, Baker said. Id like to play every day somewhere. (When) an opportunity comes (and) youre in the position I am, you got to make the most of it.
Darwin Barney is 24 and approaching the same crossroads in his career. Hes worked at second base, subbed for Aramis Ramirez at third and started at shortstop on Wednesday night in St. Louis as Starlin Castro rested a bruised hip.
Even Barney has found himself at leadoff for two of the 21 games hes appeared in since his promotion Aug. 12. The rookie entered Wednesday hitting .406 (13-for-22) in his last 11 games. His defensive instincts are a given. If he produces offensively, maybe he could be more than a utility infielder. Thats what the Cubs are trying to find out.
You never want to put a cap on anybody, Quade said. Hes a bright kid that brings some intangibles.
Barney won a state championship in high school, a gold medal at the World University Games and back-to-back College World Series titles at Oregon State University. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft, one of several homegrown players currently filling the roster.
Im just trying to find my place on this team, Barney said. I dont know what the teams trying to do when they move forward. Were winning games right now. (Were) working on getting better and us young guys (have) to.
Everyone is waiting on answers as the Cubs try to rebuild for 2011. Baker entered spring training competing against Mike Fontenot at second base, a job that went to Ryan Theriot when Castro made his big-league debut in May. Fontenot and Theriot were traded away this summer, leaving openings at second and leadoff. It will be an interesting offseason.
Sometimes when you want something so bad, (you) try to do a little too much and you find yourself back in that utility role, Baker said. (But) Im at the point now where Ive been around long enough to know that as long (as) you have a functional job youre not just kind of buried somewhere you got a chance to help the team win.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.