After a promising rookie season, Darwin Barney really established himself as an everyday second baseman in 2012, tying the major league single season record for consecutive errorless games at his position and putting himself in consideration for a National League Gold Glove award.
So what are his plans for the offseason?
Barney, who turns 27 next month, was one of the most improved players on the Cubs this season, though he still has a ways to go.
Late in the season, Sveum said he believed Barney could become a .300 hitter if he put his mind to it. But Barney batted .115 (6-for-52) in his final 13 games to watch his average settle at .254. Though he increased his walk total from 22 to 33 in 2012, Barney still doesn't get on base enough (.299 on-base percentage) for someone with his speed and baserunning intellect.
Sveum would like to pencil Barney in as his No. 2 hitter, but Barney had a .260 OBP in that slot this year, as opposed to .351 in the No. 8 spot. But he doesn't strike out much (55 straight plate appearances without a strikeout in mid-September) and can be a good situational hitter.
Strangely, his batting average at Wrigley Field was .303, almost 100 points higher than on the road (.206). That also has to improve if the Cubs hope to win a few games away from Wrigley next year.
One scout said the Cubs need a few more "dirtbags" like Barney, using the term as a compliment. Barney does whatever he can to win, which is why the Cubs believe he can be an integral part of the team for years to come, even if he doesn't become an All-Star.
Barney wants to be considered a part of the core, and from all indications he is, despite trade rumors in July that had him going to the Tigers. He's in no danger of losing his spot any time soon, but still has to improve offensively to be considered more than a complementary player who can play defense.
Can Barney become a hitter in that .300 range, which would increase his OBP to a more respectable level?
"Yeah I believe that's in there. I have that in me," he said. "Obviously if someone hits .300 they're going to look at their season and still think they could do better. I can contribute a lot more, be more productive. It's not about hitting .300 -- it's about getting it done in situations you have to get it done in.
"I focus on a lot of those things and ways I can help this club offensively. We know I can play defense. If I can move runners, gets guys in when its time and hit in big situations, I can be valuable. I'm going to keep working on that."
Barney's work ethic never has been questioned, and he went through a rigorous conditioning program last winter to put on more weight. He doesn't have the same goals this offseason, but won't slack off.
"I kept a lot more weight on this year than in the past so I don't have to be so rigorous with my workouts," he said. "They're going to be similar, but mixed in with more speed and agility stuff as I'm getting older. Make sure you stay fit and flexible, keep doing the things I do on the defensive side."
So can he back up his boasts and take Sveum's money at golf?
That remains to be seen.