During his Boston media tour before the Red Sox visited Wrigley Field last month, Theo Epstein mentioned several times that they liked to kick around an idea in the front office.
What if we rolled out an entire lineup of homegrown players?
But that was a fantasy world, because the Red Sox had to feed the monster and sell tickets to Fenway Park and boost television ratings on NESN. Epstein and his old bosses on Yawkey Way have gone round and round subtly trying to shift blame for those bad free agent contracts.
Long before Epstein came to the North Side as president of baseball operations, Darwin Barney played for Ryne Sandberg in the minors and talked about the Cubs doing things a certain way.
When the Cubs (33-52) go back to work on Friday at Wrigley Field against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the entire focus will be on who stays and who goes.
Barney and Tyler Colvin used to talk often about what it would be like to win big here. Barney still stays in touch with Colvin, the former first-round pick traded to the Colorado Rockies last winter in the Ian Stewart deal, one of the first moves of the Epstein administration.
Colvin went into the All-Star break as one of the hottest hitters in baseball, with five of his 13 homers coming in July. Hes batting .305 with a .961 OPS.
Im really happy for him, Barney said. Hopefully, hes found his niche. You put him in a lineup every day, hes going to produce for you. A change of scenery is kind of what he needed. Its a great place to hit over there.
Barney wasnt part of the Three Cs marketing campaign leading into the 2011 season. Only All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro remains after Andrew Cashner was sent to the San Diego Padres in the Anthony Rizzo trade.
Colvin never sought out the attention. Lou Piniella had trouble finding regular playing time for him (just ask Steve Stone), and so did Mike Quade. A shattered bat nearly went through his heart near the end of the 2010 season, and he looked lost at the plate last year.
He was all-in with the Cubs, man, Barney said. Thats the thing I loved about Colvin. For him, it was about winning.
Barney has laughed when hes seen his name on MLBTradeRumors.com. He doesnt exactly grind out at-bats (.304 on-base percentage), or hit for power (.666 OPS), but hes an elite defender at second base and a potential team leader.
Its very hard to feel comfortable in this game, Barney said. I feel like Ive underachieved in my production offensively. I feel like I can be better.
Im pleased with the way Ive played defensively, but in no way am I pleased with the results of the team. Thats what its all about. Coming into this year, I really, really thought we were going to contend, and I think we all feel (that) weve underachieved. Theres a lot of work to do.
Manager Dale Sveum an old hitting coach the front office listens to while evaluating players thinks Barney can be a very productive offensive player with a few adjustments and says theres still room to grow.
At a time when the Cubs are implementing their advance scouting system, Barney has studied the spray charts and helped make sure the shifts put them in the right position.
Factor in the diving plays to his left and his right and the sprints into the outfield, the Cubs should feel good up the middle for years to come with Castro and Barney.
The defense hes had all season long has been incredible, Sveum said. Its hard to believe that theres been a better second baseman in baseball defensively than Barney.
(This is) a guy that goes out there every single day to try to be a Gold Glover.
There are also the intangibles Barney brings as someone who helped Oregon State University win two College World Series titles. At the age of 26, hes already married with two kids. He reads books in the clubhouse. Hes managed to stayed grounded playing inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl.
This games not easy, Barney said. You got to find a way to separate this and the rest of your life. Theres a lot of times when this is all that you feel you are. (Baseballs) a lifestyle. Thats why people fall in love with it.
Keeping your sanity is just one of those things where you respect the game and you know how hard the game is.
Thats the hardest thing to do, especially in Chicago, to keep your head level when its so competitive and everybody knows that winnings what its all about.
For all the demands, distractions and uncertainty, theres still the chance to make history. That helped pull Epstein to Clark and Addison. Barney remembered talking about this with catcher Steve Clevenger.
Theres no better place to be, Barney said. Can you believe that we have the ability to do something amazing in sports here, if we were to win a championship? You dont have that anywhere else.
This is one of those places where every year we have an opportunity to do something special. Were blessed to be here and have that opportunity. Now lets make it happen.