Breaking News: James Loney To Re-Sign With Tampa Bay Rays

By Drew Jenkins

As Ken Rosenthal tweets, the Rays have re-signed first baseman James Loney to 3 year deal worth $21 million. Buster Olney was the first to report that a deal was close. With the first base market dwindling after the winter meetings, it is nice that the Rays will finally have a resolution at the position. Loney resigning with the Rays is no surprise, as he had been rumored to be the Rays’ top first base target this offseason. Andrew Friedman also told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times yesterday that he had expected a resolution at first base within the next few days.

Jeff Passan had earlier reported that Loney began the offseason asking for 4 years and $40 million, but then backed off to 3 years in the $27-30 million range. However, Loney ended up settling for 3 years at $21 million to return to the Rays. John Heyman tweets that of this $21 million dollars, $5 million is a signing bonus.

Loney had a career year with the Rays in 2013, posting a .299/.348/.430 line in 158 games as the Rays’ primary first baseman. He also stayed true to his reputation as a stout defender as he was nominated for the AL Gold Glove award at first base. Loney was coming off of the worst year in his career in 2012 split between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, which allowed the Rays to sign him for the bargain price of 1 year at $2 million. The Rays signed him as yet another reclamation project at first base, and now can consider him among their many successes.

It is hard not to like this signing from a Rays perspective quite a bit. Loney fits the Rays’ bill as a very stout defender, and figures to compete for a Gold Glove once again in 2014. Even though he will not hit for the power prototypical of a first baseman, Loney is still an above average hitter. Loney has a career 106 OPS+, and has only ever posted below a 98 OPS+ once in his career. Signing Loney for three years means the Rays are now set at every single position on the diamond. The Rays starters at all 8 positions (not counting pitcher) are all under team control for at least two more years. Having that type of lineup security is incredible for a team that has a small budget like the Rays.

An average annual value of $7 million dollars per year is not insignificant for the Rays. That being said, it is something they can definitely afford. Freidman also saved money in the long run by giving Loney a $5 million dollar signing bonus up front. $7 million dollars per year is a very fair price to pay for a player that will provide both defensive and offensive stability for the next three years. Overall, this amount of money allows the Rays to acquire a very good player and still have room in the budget for other significant players.

Does this deal make it more likely that the Rays will trade David Price? It will be interesting to see, but I imagine that if the Rays had planned on keeping Price, they would have signed more of a bargain option at first base. Maybe Loney’s signing means that a Price trade is becoming more imminent. But that is in issue for another time. Time for Rays fan to celebrate Loney’s return and welcome the Rays having the same first baseman for two years in a row for the first time since 2009 to 2010.