The Tampa Bay Rays have found their new first baseman, agreeing to terms with free agent James Loney on a one-year deal worth $2 million. Loney could add another million by reaching incentives. Yahoo’s Tim Brown first reported the two sides were close.
Loney, who was involved in the mega-deal between Boston and the Dodgers last August, replaces Carlos Pena in Tampa’s lineup. Loney offers a stellar glove, but his offensive numbers have been getting progressively worse throughout his career.
In his first 144 games of his career, covering the 2006-07 seasons, Loney slugged 19 home runs, added 85 RBI and produced a .321/.372/.543 line. Unfortunately, he has never been able to reproduce either the power number or the batting average. In the four seasons that followed the strong start to Loney’s career, he averaged 160 games per year, but never hit more than 13 home runs and never posted a batting average higher than .289. His OPS during that time was just a touch above league average at .752.
Loney was mired in a poor season before he was traded to Boston, but it only got worse from there. After putting up a mere .254 average and only four home runs before the trade (good for a .646 OPS), Loney managed to fall on his face in the AL East, putting up a Ryan Raburn-like .574 OPS over the season’s final 30 games.
Pena struggled to keep his batting average above the Mendoza line last season and wound up at .197, but he did manage to reach base at a .330 clip. The power slipped to just 19 home runs, however. Though Loney costs a million or so less than Pena, he never had the offensive upside that Pena does and lately both hitters have been trending backward.
At best, Loney is a younger player and at still just 28 years old, he may yet figure it out at the plate. In all likelihood, however, the Rays made a lateral move at a position they needed to upgrade. They may have even taken a step backward.