Dodgers first baseman James Loney does not intuitively strike me as a non-tender candidate – the team was reportedly unwilling to part with him in July in a Cliff Lee trade. However, Loney had a terrible final two months and finished with the worst numbers of his career. Let's examine his case.
Loney, 27 in May, agreed on a $3.1MM deal with the Dodgers for 2010. He was arbitration eligible for the first time after posting another 13 home run, 90 RBI season. This year Loney still managed ten home runs and 88 RBIs, but his batting average and walk rate slipped from '09. He finished at .267/.329/.395, disappointing rates for a first baseman.
Loney's basic career numbers: a .288 average, 55 home runs, 353 RBIs, 267 runs, and 25 steals in 2436 plate appearances across 624 games. Potential comparables Corey Hart, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Ludwick, Cody Ross, and Josh Willingham averaged a raise of about $1.8MM, which would put Loney at $4.9MM for 2011. These comparables aren't perfect; Loney bests them all in average and RBIs but falls short in home runs. Hart, coming off a lousy platform year himself after the '09 season, had to beat the Brewers to get his $1.55MM raise. The Brewers were rewarded for tendering Hart a contract, as he had a big 2010 season.
Chances are some team would be willing to give Loney a shot at $4.5-5MM next year even if the Dodgers prefer a change at first base. Loney's team will have the ability to retain him for 2012 if they're happy with his '11 results. MLB.com's Bill Ladson speculated on Friday that the Nationals would go after Loney hard if the Dodgers make him available.