Rays & James Loney Announce 3yr/$21M Deal
The Tampa Bay Rays made the signing of James Loney  official this afternoon. Agreement between Loney and the Rays was reached on December 13th but the process of taking a physical and working through the details of how the contract was to be structured took a few weeks. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter ) Loney will received a $5M signing bonus and earn $1M in 2014, $7M in 2015, and $8M in 2016.
After a rough 2012 season in which he posted a disappointing slash line of .249/.293/.336 with only six home runs in 465 plate appearances between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox he signed a 1-year/$2M contract that included $1M in incentives.
At the time of the signing last year Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations said, “James is a guy who has been on our radar for years. We feel like there’s a real significant upside from his surface line last year, He’s a tremendous defender and a guy who we feel like fits in really well with our club.”
Loney responded in 2013 posting a slash line of .299/.348/.430 with 13 home runs in 598 plate appearances and finished as a top three finalist for the gold glove award at first base.
At the end of the season he became a free agent but ultimately decided to return to the Rays. Although the agreement between Loney and the Rays represents the largest free agent deal signed by the Rays since Stu Sternberg took over in 2005 Friedman views it more of a contract extension. “[Loney’s]a great competitor, great defender, basically did everything we thought he would do against right handed pitching, and elevated his game against left handed pitching,”
Looking forward to the 2014 season Friedman said, “He’s a tremendous defender, and a guy that really fits us well in terms of our roster construction and how we like to try to do things. We’re extremely happy to have him back and feel like he’ll be a big part of us winning games for at least the next three years.”
Several teams were interested in signing him and during a conference call on Friday afternoon he mentioned the Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, and Pittsburgh Pirates. As far as the money goes “It was pretty much all around the same,” Loney said. “For us to make the decision to go back to Tampa was basically we knew what it was and we want to be happy. That was the main objective.”
Loney wasn’t sure if he was going to return to the Rays until about a week before he signed. “I kind of realized where I like to be and what I knew was something I liked and I knew the team was always going to be competitive. When you have those kind of factors it definitely makes it a lot easier.”
The decision to return to the Rays was made easier by the presence of manager Joe Maddon . “Joe was good. Joe was nice easy and calm and I think the biggest thing is for so many games in such a long season he knows that he wants guys to be themselves and go out there and play.” Loney said. “There’s not a lot of small talk. There’s not a lot of unnecessary talking and meetings and stuff like that.”
Loney was looking hoping and looking forward to coming back to the Rays. “I know becoming a free agent again for the second time, you always have your options and you want to see what’s out there and just make the decision what you think is best for you and your family,” Loney said. “So I figured overall after I looked over everything at the time, I thought this was going to be the best option and this is where I wanted to be.”
His return keeps the 2014 gold glove finalist infield together for at least one more season – Evan Longoria  (3b), Yunel Escobar  (SS), and Ben Zobrist  (2b). “Going back to the same infield is going to be fun,” Loney said. “Those guys are great they take pride in their defense and all the work that they do.” In reference to the fact that none of the members of the infield won a gold glove he said, “the gold glove thing is really funny, they should probably just do away with it because I don’t think it’s that accurate.”
Friedman noted that the return of the infield is something that will be a huge part of the Rays success in 2014. “They are extremely gifted in all facets of the game if you look at the offensive production, defensive production, just the total game we feel we have like we have one of the more productive infields in baseball and that’s a obviously a good thing and something that we were highly motivated to keep together.”
The Rays expect him to be a consistent performer throughout the contract. “The way we look at things is a little bit different than the back of a baseball card,” Friedman said. “We feel he’s been a really consistent offensive performer with the exception of 2012 and things we identified in our scouts who sat on him for a good part of the last two months of the year felt like he was a very similar player to what he was previously. It wasn’t really that out of line with what he had done historically the only real difference was that he performed much better against left handed pitching.”
The signing has pushed the payroll above the $70M mark. “As we sit here today and we look out spring training 6 weeks from now our payroll projects to be a franchise record.” Friedman said. “I think it’s an unaffordable figure for our franchise but I think its something that Stu [Sternberg] has been very steadfast and doing everything he can in putting our best foot forward to win as many games as we possibly can as we continue to build the foundation and the fan base in this area. But it’s certainly not a sustainable number in terms of where we are revenue wise but we feel we have a really good chance to be great next year and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”