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Darwin Barney has clearly proven himself as a solid defender, and defense wins ballgames, but his bat is barely existent. While it would be a shame to put his glove on the bench or trade him, I feel he's not the right fit for the Cubs. They really need some offense. Is it likely that Barney gets traded or some good competition is brought into Spring Training?
-- Tim H., Bethel, Pa.
Barney will be the first one to tell you he wasn't happy with last season (.208/.266/.303). If president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer could clone Dustin Pedroia (.301/.372/.415), they'd be ecstatic. The 28-year-old Barney, who made $562,000 last season, is arbitration eligible, and some have speculated that the Cubs could non-tender him. The deadline for teams to decide that is Dec. 2. When a player is non-tendered, he becomes a free agent.
On the current roster, Luis Valbuena, 27, could shift to second if the Cubs decide to start Mike Olt at third. Valbuena posted a .331 on-base percentage, but he batted .218 in 108 games with Chicago. He does have a career .985 fielding percentage at second, and on Thursday, started there for Cardenales de Lara in Venezuela Winter League play. Logan Watkins, 24, is an option after posting a .243/.333/.379 line in 107 games at Triple-A Iowa. Looking ahead, No. 8 prospect Arismendy Alcantara is among the Cubs' top second base prospects. Alcantara batted .271 at Double-A Tennessee and compiled a .352 on-base percentage, but he also made 33 errors (13 at second, 20 at shortstop). Let's see who shows up in Mesa, Ariz.
As long as you brought it up, let's talk about the offense, or lack of it. The Cubs not only will have a new manager in Rick Renteria, but also their third hitting coach in the past three years. James Rowson has rejoined the Yankees as their Minor League hitting coordinator. Bill Mueller, 42, who won the American League batting title in 2003, is a candidate for the Cubs job. What does Epstein want in a hitting coach?
"I think it'll take a dynamic personality and somebody with a great feel and the ability to connect with all different kinds of hitters, because not everyone does it the same way," said Epstein. "We want to lead the league in on-base percentage, and you can't just say it, you have to do it. Not every hitter will be a high on-base guy, but we want as many as we can in the lineup."
Want to play for the Cubs? You need to grind out at-bats, get a pitch you can drive and figure out a way to get on base. It's a matter of being selectively aggressive, and something the next hitting coach will stress. Whoever is hired will have a tough assignment. Last season, the club ranked 14th in the National League in on-base percentage at .293 (the Cardinals were first at .332).
Will the Cubs add a starter this offseason? Could it be a big name like Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ricky Nolasco? Or would they be looking for quality guys like Jason Vargas and Jake Westbrook?
-- Matthew W., St. Peters, Mo.
Yes, the Cubs want to add another starting pitcher, but the names you mentioned don't seem like good fits. Kuroda will be 39 next season; Jimenez did finish eighth in strikeouts, but he also was second in the AL in walks. Nolasco, 30, originally a fourth-round pick by the Cubs in 2001, is reportedly seeking a five-year, $80 million deal. That's not in Chicago's budget. The Angels are reportedly trying to keep Vargas. I read that Westbrook was retiring.
This week in Orlando, Fla., Epstein and Hoyer began face-to-face talks with teams and agents at the General Managers Meetings. The reality is that the Cubs don't expect to see significant revenue increases, which means the focus will continue to be on developing the prospects and finding players who aren't demanding mega deals.
"Our business plan and our facilities plan and our baseball plan are all a couple years away from reaching fruition, and we're going to be as aggressive as we can given our situation," Epstein said. "We're going to look for moves that make sense for now and for the future."
What's happening with Arodys Vizcaino? Did the organization's No. 6 prospect pitch at all in the Fall League or instructional league? Is he going to Spring Training fighting for a big league bullpen spot or will he be stretched out to start at Triple-A?
-- Aaron S., Des Moines, Iowa
After a long summer of rehab, Vizcaino, 23, did pitch in two games in instructional league. The plan now is to see where he is in Spring Training and then make a decision. Vizcaino's comeback from Tommy John surgery was delayed when he needed an arthroscopic debridement on his right elbow in late May. He was used in relief with the Braves in 2011, which may be his role with the Cubs.
I asked this question two years ago, and I hope the answer this time is better. The young position players are great, but you win with pitching. Who do you think is the future No. 1 of the Cubs' pitching staff?
-- Jeff S., Aurora, Ill.
Here are some names to watch: C.J. Edwards, Corey Black, Pierce Johnson, Kyle Hendricks, Paul Blackburn and Eric Jokisch.
With instant replay coming up, will there be rules about how many cameras are used and angles of the cameras? More important, can teams have a small crew available to view plays and notify the field manager if that play should be reviewed?
-- Steve P., Tempe, Ariz.
The answer is no regarding a team employing its own replay crew. Major League Baseball wants to avoid having managers argue and stall to give someone time to check out the play before deciding whether to challenge it. All replays will be reviewed out of MLB Advanced Media's offices in New York with umpires communicating with the review officials via headphones.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.