CINCINNATI – The face-of-the-franchise first baseman to Darwin Barney’s left recently signed a contract that could make him some $70 million and keep him in a Cubs uniform through 2021.
The All-Star shortstop to Barney’s right agreed to a seven-year, $60 million deal last summer, putting him front and center in the Wrigley Field rebuilding plans.
What about the Gold Glove second baseman? Barney has been asked many times if he thinks he’ll be part of “The Core” alongside Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. But it’s not just media-driven. The Ricketts family, Theo Epstein’s front office and Dale Sveum’s staff have made it central to the narrative.
“It’s hard to say,” Barney said before Friday’s 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. “There was some talk in the offseason with my agent about what could happen or what we think would happen. But that’s just talk. That has nothing to do with performance on the field.
“Obviously, everybody wants to be here. Everybody wants to be in Chicago when things turn around. Everybody wants to be a big part of that team. That’s what we’re going for. When we start turning it around team-wise, things could fall into place.”
Memorial Day is a traditional mile marker for the long baseball season, and the Cubs began the holiday weekend with their fifth straight loss. They’re now 18-29, a season-low 11 games under .500 and trending in the wrong direction with the July 31 trade deadline approaching.
“You’re running up on a couple months away now,” Sveum said. “(You’re) trying to put things together where you pull off some streaks and some winning months and winning weeks, to give yourself a chance to give yourself hope. There’s no question about it.
“But we all know that if we don’t, there could be changes.”
So this could have been another showcase for Scott Feldman in front of a sellout crowd (40,716) at Great American Ball Park, where Matt Garza will face the 30-18 Reds on Sunday.
Feldman, who’s working on a one-year deal, had gone 4-0 with a 1.27 ERA in his previous five starts, and appeared to be one pitch away, a recurring theme in this Cubs season. And then Cincinnati’s No. 8 hitter, Ryan Hanigan, destroyed a 3-2 hanging curveball for a three-run homer, the big swing in a five-run fourth inning.
That’s an issue when the pitchers are sparking the offense. With his first home run since college – a two-run shot in the second inning – Feldman ran the pitchers’ RBI total to 15 in May (their most in a month in franchise history since August 1937).
The fulcrum for this lineup – Rizzo – has gone 0-for-22 in his last five games.
“There’s definitely an urgency,” Sveum said. “He’s not taking his walks. He’s just kind of swinging, guessing with a lot more movement than he normally has at the plate.”
Rizzo will get paid to put up power numbers. Barney – who will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter – isn’t scheduled to become a free agent until after the 2016 season. His defensive WAR rating – a +3.6 led all National League players last season – and leadership qualities and intangibles won’t break the bank.
Barney, 27, doesn’t play a glamour position like Castro either. But after listening to all the voices telling him what to do at the plate, Barney’s simplified his approach, going 12-for-34 across the last 10 games, raising his average from .154 to .214 and again showing signs he could be the kind of two-way player Cubs people talk about.
“That’s not really on my mind right now,” Barney said. “They have my rights long enough to where they don’t have to make that decision for awhile. For me, it’s just continuing to develop and try and become one of those players. If I am, that’s great. But at this point, that’s definitely not really one of my concerns.”
That’s really all that’s left to find out this season – who gets traded and who becomes part of “The Core.”