James Loney Remains A Viable Target For Rays
Will James Loney Remain With The Rays In 2014?
The Tampa Bay Rays are in the market for a first baseman and there is a general feeling that their 2013 James Loney will cash in on his 2013 season. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projects him to receive a contract offer in the neighborhood of 2-yr/$16M - a neighborhood the Rays normally do not shop in.
Additionally, he was traded from the only organization he ever knew going from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Boston Red Sox in the blockbuster deal involving Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett.
The 2013 season was a rebound season as he posted a slash line of .299/.348/.430 with a wOBA of .339 with a wRC+ of 118 a strike out rate of 12.9% of his plate appearances which ranks 18th in the American League but 2nd among all AL first baseman behind only Edwin Encarnacion's 10%. He prides himself on being a contact spray hitter and in 2013 led all of baseball with a line drive rate of 29.8%.
His 2013 season was very solid but there are reasons why his market value may fall more in line to the Rays price range:
His 2013 season with the Rays is often linked to Casey Kotchman who had a career year with the Rays in 2011 hitting.306/.378/.422 with a wOBA of .354 and a wRC+ of 127. Regression is expected but unlike Kotchman his season is not too far removed from his career norms. In one of the earliest 2014 projection models Steamers projects Loney to post a slash line of .272/.330/.401 with a wOBA of .318 and a wRC+ of 100 in 2014. A look at James Loney's career numbers:
NOT A PROTOTYPICAL FIRST BASEMAN
Traditionally teams will look for power at first base even if it means sacrificing defense. His career high in home runs is 15 in 2007 and even in an extremely productive season last season he only hit 13. One measure of power is ISO which measures a players raw power or his ability to hit for extra bases. Last season his ISO was .131 which ranks 24th out of 25 qualified first baseman. The Rays are one of the few teams in major league baseball that value defense at first base and view the position as an anchor of the infield.
Loney will be on the free agent market with Mike Napoli, Justin Morneau, Kendrys Morales,Corey Hartand Paul Konerko. Additionally the trade market may include Adam Lind, Mark Trumbo, Ike Davis, Mitch Moreland,and Justin Smoak. Both Napoli and Morales received qualifying offers and are expected to decline and test the open market but teams that sign either will forfeit their first round draft pick (if outside the top11) which may limit the teams targeting them.
There are only a handful of teams that will be aggressively pursuing an upgrade at first base in 2014 and these teams will most likely look for more power at the position by targeting Napoli, Hart, or Morneau. It shouldn't take long for Loney's agent to realize that the lack of extra-base power in his clients bat is going to push him down on the pecking order on the open market.
HAPPY IN TAMPA BAY
James Loney isn't the warmest of personalities. He isn't outgoing, he doesn't like to speak to the media. He likes to come to work and do his job and he takes that very seriously. He seemed to be at home with the Rays in 2013 as Joe Maddon allowed him to be himself. From the first day that he arrived in Port Charlotte he was told to be himself. The Rays did not expect power from his bat they expected him to spray the ball around the diamond and provide stellar defense at first base.
I'd expect their to be more disinterest for Loney on the open market based on his expected regression, other options on the market, and his lack of power. I also don't believe the Rays will wait around all off-season to fill their first base needs.
The Rays and James Loney could agree on a two-year $10M contract that includes a 3rd year club option with some sort of buyout. In this arrangement the Rays get their high contact gold glove caliber first baseman at a reasonable price and Loney gets to play for an organization that allows him to be himself.