Oct 5, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays first baseman James Loney (21) watches his RBI double he hit off Boston Red Sox pitcher John Lackey (not pictured) during the fifth inning in game two of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Rays Go All-In for James Loney?

It was almost a foregone conclusion throughout baseball that James Loney‘s 2013 season with the Tampa Bay Rays would be his last. Loney had a great year, hitting to a .299/.348/.430 line (118 OPS+) to go along with great defense, and especially since he was hitting the market still months away from turning 30 years of age, some other team was going to give him a multi-year deal. Two months after the Rays’ season ended, the odds are still in favor of Loney departing–but surprisingly, the Rays are still in the running.

Loney is reportedly seeking three years and $27 million and the Rays would want him for less, but simply the fact that we are still hearing their name in connection to him could mean they are considering making a significant offer. Since the start of the 2009 season, the Rays have signed just two players to a multi-year worth at least $6 million a year: Evan Longoria and Pat Burrell. As a franchise icon, Longoria was the exception, not the rule, and Burrell turned out to be a total disaster. Is James Loney could enough to warrant the Rays leaving their comfort zone one more time?

In 2013, James Loney became the latest Rays first baseman signed to a low-cost contract to come through with a breakout year. However, there was a big difference between Loney and Casey Kotchman and Jeff Keppinger before him: his 2013 season was not so out of the ordinary. Loney’s career batting line is .285/.340/.421–Loney’s batting average was a few ticks higher, but his overall line was not so different from his career numbers at all. That is somewhat misleading because Dodger Stadium, while Loney has played most of his career, is more hitter-friendly than Tropicana Field. Nevertheless, though, Loney’s breakout was not nearly as surprising or aberrant as a player like Kotchman or Keppinger. He hit lefties better than he had in the past, but otherwise he was essentially the same hitter, only with a combination of adjustments and some luck leading to a stronger year than usual. James Loney is different from past cases–he has proven himself to be more reliable.

$9 million is a lot of money by Rays standards. The only player to surpass that total this seaosn was David Price–in fact, he was the only one to make more than $6 million. How much are the Rays willing to play for a more consistent player than they have featured in the past? This season, they could very well acquire some other first baseman like Logan Morrison or Ike Davis via trade, and if recent trends continue, he will be just as good as Loney at a fraction of the cost. Doing that, however, also comes with risk, and the Rays must have a price in which signing Loney makes sense.

The Rays know how successful they have been in the past, but no matter how great they are at finding undervalued talent, the Rays know that it is only a matter of time before one of their first-base signings fails absolutely. Carlos Pena did not live up to expectations in 2013 despite his $7.25 million salary, and the Rays were lucky that Keppinger had easily his best offensive season to help pick up the load. Will there be a Keppinger around next time? Having Loney signed for multiple years would finally allow the Rays to relax more about their first base situation and address other needs. The Rays will not overextend for James Loney, but if the potential cost would fit into their budget, they will not hesitate to deviate from their previous strategy and sign him to a multi-year deal.

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8 Comments on Should the Rays Go All-In for James Loney?

  1. Joey says:

    What about 3 years 21m with incentives that could get it to 26m? Incentives like games played, All-Star, etc… Add the following/departed contracts of: Neiman, K. Johnson, Luke Scott, Farns, Rodney, & Loney’s previous contract and you have more than enough to lock him up. Do it Rays he’s worth every penny.

    • Robbie_Knopf says:

      I do think that somewhere around a $7 million AAV would be the Rays’ best offer, but you have to wonder if they will risk a three-year deal even for a guy like Loney.

      • Joey says:

        I think the risk is minimal when you compare it to the risk they’d be taking in budget FA’s looking to have a bounce back year. The strategy has worked for the bullpen but not 1b other than Loney. The window is closing for this team. If they can lock up a key position like 1b I think they should do it. Especially when Loney wants to stay here. They have the upper hand in this deal. They tried to get cute with Benoit and slow play it after 2011 and that backfired. The Tigers came in and snatched him up before the Rays could even make an offer. Friedman was seriously, pissed about that. Same could happen here with Loney if they don’t move fast.

        • Robbie_Knopf says:

          Interesting point regarding Benoit (although were the Rays really going to give him three years?), but the whole point of the Rays’ strategy is to make sure their window never ends. The Rays are never going to make a signing out of even the slightest hint of desperation because they can’t afford to overextend themselves and have valuable salary going to less useful players because of that. Loney at even $7 million a year is a solid value, not a great one, compared to the Rays’ other options, and him even ending up there is a question. The Rays could acquire another bargain player or make a trade, and even if that player fails they always have internal options thanks to the versatility on their roster. The cost is less, the upside is higher, and the risk is not as scary as it sounds. There is a price in which they will sign Loney, but if it does not happen, they will be just fine.

  2. phattitudes says:

    If Loney gets picked up by another team so be it. The first base market is cooling, so they can afford to wait. There are two other teams sniffing at first baseman, that is Milwaukee and Pittsburg. Loney and Hart are still available. Many others are rumored to be offered via trade. The Rays need to see if there is a Price trade or any other trades at these winter meeting that produce a first baseman. Loney is a nice fit for the Rays but he is middle of the road at best. A first baseman should be a run producer. While his fielding is a plus, Loney ranked 9th in RBIs among the AL first baseman. Every time the Rays take the field against a contender we are losing ground positionally with Loney at first base. He does not measure up to the standard a contender should have. I would rather see the Rays plan be to acquire a prospect that they believe in and then pick up a short term solution like Reynolds, Duda, or Morrison. Two years ago we passed on Rizzo and Alonso both of whom were traded and are now coming into their own. For now, we should aggressively go after a Singleton or Vogelbach or any other candidate they like. The Rays can put together an attractive package for any player. The time to do it is now.

    • Robbie_Knopf says:

      You’re giong to have to do a better job than that RBI stat to convince me that James Loney is a substandard big league first baseman. Between the offense he does provide (especially his ability to limit strikeouts and hit lefties as a lefty batter), his defense, and his clubhouse presence, he’s at least an average first baseman. That’s not the ideal, but the Rays could certainly do a lot worse.

      That first base prospect is probably RIchie Shaffer. This season did go as planned, but his approach showed improvement in the Arizona Fall League and hopefully his power finally comes out next year. In trades, meanwhile, the Rays would be fine getting a great first base prospect if that’s what a team has, but they certainly don’t push for one especially. They’re content just getting as many good prospects as possible and then they’ll move someone to first base eventually if necessary.

      • phattitudes says:

        Just looking at 2013. We have: Davis -138, Fielder – 106, Encarnacion – 104, Trumbo – 100, Napoli – 92, Moss – 87, Dunn – 86, Carter – 82, Hosmer – 79, Loney – 75. Luckily Pujols and Teixeira were hurt. It is frustrating when Baltimore, Detroit, Toronto, Los Angeles, Texas, Oakland, Chicago, Houston, and Kansas City all beat us out. Most of these teams are contenders for playoff spots. Just saying we should set our standard higher. This is a sample of one season but that’s how long he was here. I am not so down on Loney as much as down on the Rays for not being more aggressive in solving a recurring problem (albeit in a cost controlled manner) at such a key position. They do a marvelous job with their bottom fishing but in this case it hurts our competitiveness because it is such a key offensive position.

        • Robbie_Knopf says:

          RBIs are a producct of playing time and lineup spot. Loney sat against lefties much of the year and didn’t always hit in the middle of the Rays’ order. Especially for the latter, how is that Loney’s fault?

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