James Loney Appears To Be Heading Back To Tampa Bay
The Tampa Bay Rays have reportedly reach a tentative 3-year/$21M contract to bring back first basemen James Loney . Buster Olney reported that the two sides were on the verge of a deal (Twitter ) and Ken Rosenthal reported the signing (Twitter ). According to Jon Heyman (Twitter ) $5M of the contract will be in the form of a signing bonus.
During the winter meetings Rays Manager Joe Maddon  was asked if he had the opportunity to talk to James Loney since the season ended.
He said he had and that “I wanted him to know how upset I was that he didn’t win the gold glove.”
He went on to say that the two had developed a friendship last year with a lot of trust going both ways.
As far as his desire that Loney returning to the Rays Maddon said, “if for some way he falls back to us that’d be great but I don’t know – he’s deserving of what he gets and I think last year he showed to everybody how good of a baseball player he is, he’s a really good baseball player.”
Just a year ago Loney was looking to re-establish his value and signed a 1-year contract with Tampa Bay that paid him a base salary of $2M and included incentives.Near the end of last season Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations talked about the signing of James Loney with MLB.com beat reporter Bill Chastain :
“James has been one of the better defensive first basemen in the game for a while, and fit right in with our emphasis on defense, But he’s also demonstrated good natural hitting ability, especially against right-handers, and a contact bat that adds a different dimension to our lineup. We felt that with everything he brings to the table, he had a real chance to thrive in our environment.”
In 2013 he posted a slash line of .299/.348/.430 with a wOBA of .339 an a wRC+ of 118. Defensively, he was a gold glove finalist having a rating of four Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and a UZR/150 of +7.2. His strong offensive season and equally impressive defensive season played into his achieving a career high fWAR of 2.7.
As Andrew Friedman eluded too above Loney has always been good at hitting right handed pitching. Entering the 2013 season he had posted a career slash line of .294/.351/.440 and in 2013 his overall numbers versus right handed pitching mirrored his career averages .299/.352/.446.
His Achilles heal was his inability to hit southpaws. Entering the 2013 season he had a career slash line against left handed pitching of .249/.303/.356 but in 2013 he unlocked the secret and his numbers (.299/.339/.390) were the best they had been against lefties since his 2008 season when he posted a slash line of .274/.368/.411.
In his career 74.25% (3031 of 4082) of his plate appearances have been against right handed pitching. In 2013 27.7% (166 of 594) of his plate appearances came against left handed pitching which isn’t much higher than his career percent entering the 2013 of 25.4% (885 of 3484) plate appearances.
If he does experience some regression against lefties Joe Maddon  can cut back on some of his playing time by inserting Sean Rodriguez  into the lineup or the Rays may still acquire a right handed DH/1b compliment like Kevin Youkilis  or Mark Reynolds .
Another one of his strengths is the ability to hit with 2-strikes. Since 2007 the major league average when a batter has two strikes on them has ranged between .178 and .192. In every season since 2007 Loney has been well above the league average with 2-strikes hitting .296 (2007), .234 (2008), .222 (2009), .207 (2010), .237 (2011), .200 (2012), and .231 (2013).
Loney doesn’t take much of an analytical approach to hitting with two strikes telling Bill Chastain , “Two strikes, you’re up there and know if it’s close, you have to swing, But you don’t really think about it. Hit something.”