Making a Case for the Rays Keeping James Loney


James Loney can’t buy any love from those surrounding the Tampa Bay Rays. Everyone from GM Matt Silverman to Tampa Bay Times beat writer Marc Topkin want to buy him a one way ticket out of Port Charlotte. What did this poor guy do to get himself in the doghouse? Well, it’s complicated and needs a bit of an explanation.

James Loney has been a regular first baseman in the major leagues for nine years. Six were with the Los Angeles Dodgers and three with the Rays. For seven of those years, he played in 144 or more games. His 162 game average offensive statistics include 12 home runs, 77 rbi’s and a slash line of .285/.338/.411. In addition, he is a top flight defensive first baseman and a good guy in the clubhouse.

Given all of that, what’s not to like? Well, first of all he is not your prototypical power hitting first baseman. He has never hit more than 15 home runs in a single season or driven in more than 90 runs. When baseball people think of a first baseman, players like Miggy Cabrera with a career 162 game average of 34 home runs and 121 rbi’s come to mind not a line drive hitter like Loney.

Secondly, Loney make $8 million in the last year of a three-year contract and the Rays have a history that anyone whose name is not Evan Longoria and makes more that $5 million a year could be shown the door at any time. It does make any difference that a power hitting first baseman like Cabrera makes $25 million a year or more and the Rays could never pay that kind of money? Not really as Loney has crossed the Rays magic monetary threshold.

It’s not like the Rays didn’t know what they were getting when they signed Loney. After his one poor year in the big leagues in 2012, the Rays signed Loney for a paltry $2 million in 2013 and he rewarded them with 13 home runs, 77 rbi’s and a .299 batting average. The Rays liked his performance enough to sign him to a three year $21 million contract. The Rays knew what they were getting and it wasn’t Loney’s fault that the rest of the team was an offensive disaster.

Lastly, the team is now over loaded with outfielder/first basement/dh position players. Right now Loney, Logan Morrison, Chris Dickerson and Desmond Jennings are fighting for those three jobs and Steve Pearce and Brandon Guyer are looking for at bats. How do you find at bats for this group? One possibility would be to platoon left handed hitting Loney, Morrison and Dickerson with right handed hitting Jennings, Pearce and Guyer. Another is to trade one of them.

If it comes down to somebody going, it will probably be between Loney and Jennings with Guyer as a possibility. Interestingly enough, Loney‘s offensive numbers are stronger than Jennings. Loney’s 162 game average offensive output (shown above) is better than Jennings’ 15 home runs, 55 rbi’s and .249/.327/.398 slash line. In addition, Jennings has never been able to decide whether he was a get on base top of the order speed guy or a middle of the order power guy. Both are coming off down years, mostly due to injuries, with Loney being out of the lineup for 51 games and contributing only 4 homers and 32 rbi’s in 2015.

I confess to being a big James Loney fan and, as far as I’m concerned, you could trade Jennings for a case of sunflower seeds. To me, Loney’s ability to consistently get on base is more valuable to this Rays team than Jennings’ occasional burst of power. Yes, Loney is not Carlos Pena but the Rays will never find another Pena they can afford. The Rays seem to see it in another way. They see Loney as an overpaid station-to-station line drive hitter and Jennings as a superior athlete with power and speed who is just about to break out. In the end, let’s hope that the Rays can find a way to keep both of them. They need all the offensive help they can get.