Updated: Maddon on Loney below.
It didn’t take long for the Rays to make their presence known at the 2012 Winter Meetings. The Rays made the biggest news of the day, signing 27 year-old first baseman, James Loney, to a one year, $2MM contract which could net him $3MM once incentives are taken into consideration. Pending his physical, Loney could take over the first base duties from Carlos Pena. Loney earned $6.375 million last season.
Loney is a career .282 BA/.339 OBP/.419 SLG/.758 OPS hitter, with seven years in the bigs under his belt. Initially acquired by the Red Sox in the Nick Punto trade with the Dodgers, Loney had a lackluster 2012 season, posting the worst numbers of his career with a .249 BA/.293 OBP/.336 SLG/.629 OPS line, 41 RBI, and seven homers in 465 at-bats.
After finishing sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2007, much has been made of his dwindling offensive production, especially over the last four seasons where his wOBA has dropped from .355 to .343 to .337 to its current .329 mark. Why would the Rays sign a player that Ben Buchanan of Over the Monster Blog calls, “(a) guy you hope never to see in your lineup as a contending team?” The answer to that is three fold.
Loney’s splits against righties are good. According to Daniel Russel of DRaysBay, “In 2011, he held a .350 wOBA and 125 wRC+ against righties, and may not have a problem reaching those numbers again – his career splits include a .341 wOBA and 111 wRC+.”
What’s more, Loney is a very good defensive first baseman, posting a career high 12.1 UZR/150 in 2012, with a career .994 fielding percentage. And if he sounds eerily reminiscent of a former Rays first baseman, (ahem Casey Kotchman) it should be noted that Loney also has an excellent (read: low) strikeout rate at 12.2% over the course of his career.
And with the news that the Rays could send a starting pitcher to Washington for right handed first baseman Danny Espinosa and outfielder Michael Morse, we could see a platoon situation with Loney starting at first when there is a right handed pitcher on the mound.
In short, this seems like another of Tampa Bay’s famous low-risk moves that work out well for the Rays.
(Video courtesy of Marc Topkin/Tampa Bay Times)