The Tampa Bay Rays have had great success in plucking players off the scrap heap and revitalizing their careers. Players such as Joel Peralta, Jeff Keppinger, and the historically excellent Fernando Rodney were all afterthoughts before signing in Tampa. When a team has the financial constraints that the Rays have, it is fairly imperative to take these low risk/high reward gambles in order to compete.
Hence the Rays signing of James Loney. Loney fit that profile almost exactly – a former top prospect who had never really produced in the majors, aside from his rookie season. He has been able to make contact, but with minimal power. He has been decent defensively, but his defense does not offset his lack of offense. Yet, there is the potential that he could put everything together, and his one year, $2Million salary is hardly extravagant.
Yet, the Rays potentially had internal options that would have cost less than what they spent on Loney. Leslie Anderson and Henry Wrigley both appeared to be in line for a chance at the major league roster, if not a potential starting role. However, this signing appears to have ended those possibilities.
At this point, despite his breakthrough season at Durham last year where he had 21 doubles, 14 home runs, and a .309/.355/.450 batting line, Anderson appears to have been an utter waste of resources. Entering the final year of his 4 year, $1.725Million contract, it appears as though Anderson may, at best, get a chance as a backup first baseman/fourth outfielder. Considering the expectations when he was signed, this has to rank as a complete disappointment.
However, at least Anderson is still guaranteed a paycheck, which is more than Wrigley has at this point. After he began his minor league career slowly, Wrigley has turned into a potential power threat. After an excellent 2012 split between Montgomery and Durham where he produced 37 doubles, 20 home runs, and a .282/.331/.489 batting line, he has continued to hit in the Venezuelan Winter Leagues, tying for the league lead in home runs, while placing tied for second in RBI and tenth in batting average. Yet, Wrigley is a minor league free agent, and may wind up elsewhere as he searches for an opportunity.
In essence, the signing of Loney appears to have signaled that the Rays feel that neither Anderson nor Wrigley are viable major league options. While both have their flaws, Loney does as well. However, the Rays are willing to give Loney a chance to prove that he can be the player everyone expected, something they appear unwilling to do for Wrigley and Anderson.
The Tampa Bay Rays appear to have, at least some, faith in James Loney. By extension, the Rays appear to have minimal confidence that either Anderson or Wrigley can contribute at a major league level. If they are unable to get a chance on a team that needs offense as badly as the Rays appear to, they may not get a chance to prove they can play in the majors.