I was reading the solidly-above-replacement-level Yankees blog rlyw.net this morning, and I came across a very interesting table. It listed the Runs Created at 2B for each team this year. I won't reproduce the whole list (seriously, check out that blog, it's interesting), but I share one thing:
NYY: 123 RC
CHC: 45 RC
That's a difference of 78 RUNS. It's really hard to imagine that one player could offensively be worth almost a run every other game over another MLB player, but here it is. Of course, Robinson Cano is the best 2B in the game, a HOF hitting his prime. When you consider the positional median is at 78 RC, he's an extremely good piece to have.
It's hard to believe that a team can provide so little value at a position, but that's what Darwin Barney does. Shockingly, Toronto got even less production from 2B this year, but the two teams are still outliers. You replace Barney with a bottom-quarter 2B and you'd still pick up around 20 runs.
If we adjust for Defensive Run Saved (the first run-based defensive stat I could think of), the gap closes…but not considerably. Barney saved 11 runs with his glove this year, but Cano saved 6. The gap is still 72 runs, which is roughly 7 wins from one position alone!
I'm not trying to use this as an argument to sign Robinson Cano. It's not. What I am saying is that even with Barney's defensive value, he's still one of the worst 2 or 3 2B in baseball right now. The Cubs can add 3 to 4 wins just by being average at second base next year. Can Alcantara be an average 2B next year? It's certainly possible. Even if he's bottom-quarter, though, he's probably still worth more than Barney. Barney's value is that he's a premium defensive replacement at 2B/SS and spot starter. Nothing more.
Barney has now played the 2B for the bulk of 3 consecutive seasons. In those seasons, his maximal line was .276/.313/.353, which was a wOBA of .294, "good" for a wRC+ of 79. His defensive wizardry was enough to convince BP that his WARP in '11 and '12 was 1.3 and 2.3, respectively. However, this year, BP had him at -2.0, with a True Average right at the Mendoza line. BP didn't even like his fielding this year, with a FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) at -1.7, a change of 13 runs from 2011. I'm willing to give Barney the benefit of the doubt (and chalk this up to the relatively unreliable nature of defensive statistics).
Fortunately (if that's the right word) for Darwin, his splits are essentially even, with an OBP of .306 and .303 agaisnt lefties and righties respectively. He's sub-replacement level from both sides of the plate, but just so, so he'll find work on some team's bench for a few years, until the shine on his glove wears off. If the Cubs are serious about contending in 2014, though, Barney just can't be a starter. He just can't be.