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James Loney Rumors
Attention on the first base market could now shift to James Loney after the Mariners took a pair of options off the board in Logan Morrison and Corey Hart. Yesterday, we heard that the Pirates were checking back in on him, while the Brewers were hesitant to meet his three-year asking price. Here's the latest:
- The Brewers have "sincere interest" in Loney but don't expect to get anything done before leaving the Winter Meetings, according to McCalvy (on Twitter).
- The Pirates and Brewers are still in on Loney, tweets Buster Olney of ESPN.com, with the Rays also remaining in the discussion.
- Indeed, after watching Hart leave for Seattle, the Brewers have turned their attention to Loney, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). The club is probably only interested if the deal stays under three years, tweets Adam McCalvy of MLB.com.
- If Milwaukee instead shifts its attention at the trade market, writes Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (via Twitter), options include Ike Davis, Mitch Moreland, and Justin Smoak. Haudricourt wonders (via Twitter) if the thin market could lead to an increased willingness to pay Loney.
- Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle tweeted earlier today that while the Astros prefer a stopgap, they haven't ruled out Loney.
The Brewers have a one-year offer plus some incentives on the table to Hart, but he's weighing an offer from another team that is said to contain more incentives than the Brewers' offer. Brewers officials were up past 1am ET last night waiting on a response from Hart before hearing that he needs more time to make his decision.
GM Doug Melvin heard from James Loney's agent this morning, but McCalvy indicates that Loney's three-year asking price is too high. Trades for Ike Davis and Logan Morrison present alternatives, but the Mets have asked Milwaukee for Tyler Thornburg in return for Davis — a surprisingly lofty price considering the two seasons each had. Davis batted .205/.326/.334 for the Mets, while Thornburg posted a 2.03 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 66 2/3 innings and finished the season strongly as a member of Milwaukee's rotation.
The Brewers would like resolution on the situation before tomorrow's Rule 5 Draft, McCalvy reports.
Loney was said to be a top target of the Pirates last week, but reports shortly thereafter surfaced, suggesting that the former Ray is looking for a three-year deal worth as much as $30MM. The lefty swinger enjoyed a nice rebound campaign with the Rays in 2013, hitting .299/.348/.430 with 13 homers and his typical brand of strong defense at first base. Since that time, the Pirates have been connected to Logan Morrison in trade talks, though interest on that front was most recently said to be "mild."
Earlier today, we heard from Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi of FOX Sports that a trade agreement between the Rangers and Blue Jays fell through when a player involved in the deal failed his physical. The FOX duo reported that Sergio Santos would have been sent to Texas in the swap, and Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca adds another detail, revealing that the agreed-upon trade would have seen the Blue Jays land a starting pitcher. Here's more on the Jays from Orlando:
- The Pirates approached the Jays about Adam Lind, but talks quickly fizzled when Toronto countered by asking about Neil Walker, according to Davidi.
- While the Jays aren't necessarily looking to move Lind, the team has asked around about other first base options like James Loney, Mitch Moreland, and Logan Morrison, in case a Lind deal presents itself.
- GM Alex Anthopoulos didn't comment specifically on whether the Blue Jays would bid on Masahiro Tanaka, but said, "I think it’s safe to say any good starter that’s out there we’re going to be active, we’ll try to be involved and see if it makes sense for us."
- Anthopoulos added that the Jays are "having some dialogue" on a smaller deal that would add a right-handed bat to the team's bench.
- Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com passes along a transcript of manager John Gibbons' conversation with the media today, which includes plenty of discussion about possible holes on the roster and potential moves to address them.
The Rays will trade David Price, but his two remaining years of team control mean that GM Andrew Friedman can afford to wait for the right return, Marc Topkin writes for the Tampa Bay Times. They're expected to look to improve upon the return they got from the Royals for James Shields, so a package could comprise an elite-level young player such as the Mariners' Taijuan Walker or the Rangers' Jurickson Profar, along with a major league-ready talent and one or two lower-level prospects. Here's the latest out of the AL East:
- While the Rays might play the waiting game with Price, first base is "an area we absolutely have to address," Friedman says in a second Topkin article. They'd like to re-up with James Loney, but not at his three-year, $27MM asking price. Topkin adds that the Rays also appear to be interested in a veteran right-handed hitter who can handle second base, citing reported interest in Mark Ellis and Jamey Carroll.
- Red Sox GM Ben Cherington says his club may be done with its "heavy lifting" this offseason and is now entering an "opportunistic phase," Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com tweets. The team is "sort of looking at different scenarios, different ideas, and maybe nothing comes of those because we feel pretty good about where we are right now," Ian Browne quotes Cherington as saying in an MLB.com article.
- It's easy to overlook just how bad the 2013 Yankees were, SBNation's Rob Neyer writes. The club won 85 games, but its Pythagorean record suggests a 79-win team, and more nuanced analyses indicate the team was even worse. However, this offseason's slew of free agent signings and healthy seasons from players such as Mark Teixeira should give the Yankees a fighting chance in 2014, Neyer says. The Bombers figure to be better at no less than seven positions next year.
- MLB sources say the Yankees will listen on Brett Gardner, particularly if they're offered a starting pitcher in exchange, Newsday's Marc Carig reports. The Star-Ledger previously reported major interest in the outfielder. Gardner is projected to earn $4MM in his final year of arbitration by MLBTR's Matt Swartz.
- While there's good sense in the Orioles' decision to allow Scott Feldman and Nate McLouth to depart to other teams, the club must secure replacements, Dan Connolly writes for The Baltimore Sun. Connolly says at least one should be replaced by an upgrade via free agency, citing Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett as acceptable substitutes for Feldman.
James Loney's name has begun to surface on the rumor mill in the past 24 hours, as he's reportedly a primary target for the Rays and Pirates. According to Yahoo's Jeff Passan, Loney and his new representatives at the Legacy Agency set out seeking a four-year, $40MM pact this offseason and are now targeting something in the range of $27-30MM over three years (Twitter link).
Though that number may seem high to some, it's not surprising that Loney is looking to crush Justin Morneau's two-year, $13MM deal with the Rockies. Loney is three years younger than Morneau and coming off a much better season. The 29-year-old Loney batted .299/.348/.430 with 13 homers in 2013 and comes with a reputation for sterling defense at first base.
Mike Napoli is probably the top first base option on the market, but teams like the Rays and Pirates, who know that Napoli is out of their price range, could look to Loney as a more affordable alternative. Loney doesn't have the same power or as consistent a track record, but his agents can make the claim that he comes with more certainty than a wild card like Corey Hart, who missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing surgery on each of his knees.
Likewise, Michael Morse and Kevin Youkilis each battled injuries and turned in sub-par performances when healthy, leaving Loney, Napoli and perhaps Kendrys Morales (who is more of a DH but could be deployed at first base in the short-term) as the only free agent first basemen coming off strong seasons.
Interested parties could be wary of three guaranteed years for Loney, however, given his weak 2012 showing. Loney batted just .246/.293/.336 with six home runs that year.
12:29pm: Loney is also a top target for the Rays, if they can afford him, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Topkin relays some quotes from team president Matthew Silverman's interview on WDAE-620 AM radio this morning: "The good thing for us is he liked it here. We liked him, he fit in well. And we're a known quantity … I'm hopeful that he can be here."
11:42am: The Pirates have contacted the Blue Jays about Adam Lind and the Rangers about Mitch Moreland, reports ESPN's Jayson Stark (on Twitter), but clubs who have spoken to the Buccos get the sense that James Loney has emerged as their top choice at the position.
At 29 years of age, Loney is a young free agent (he'll turn 30 next May). The lefty swinger enjoyed a nice rebound campaign with the Rays in 2013, hitting .299/.348/.430 with 13 homers and his typical brand of strong defense at first base. The Pirates had a hole at first base all season that they tried to fill by acquiring Justin Morneau from the Twins. While Morneau provided a solid OBP, he didn't homer in Pittsburgh and ultimately did little to improve the collective .243/.324/.402 batting line posted by Pittsburgh first basemen.
There was talk of re-signing Morneau, but that option disappeared last night when he agreed to a two-year, $13MM contract with the Rockies. That contract is likely good news for Loney and his new representatives at the Legacy Agency. Loney is three years younger than Morneau and coming off a much better season, so he should be able to top that guarantee. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes predicted a two-year, $16MM contract for Loney back in early November, and it's possible at this point that he could top that figure.
As for the other two targets mentioned by Stark, both Moreland and Lind make some degree of sense for the Pirates. Each has a strong track record against right-handed pitching but is overmatched by lefties. Pittsburgh has a solid in-house platoon option at first base in the form of Gaby Sanchez. Both Moreland and Lind can be controlled through the 2016 season.
Earlier today it was reported that the Rockies are one of the teams that has checked in on Ike Davis, but according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, that's just one of many avenues the team is looking into in an attempt to fill the void left by Todd Helton's retirement. Colorado has also checked in on free agents James Loney, Justin Morneau and Mike Napoli and also has some degree of interest in Mike Morse (Twitter links). More news on the boys from Denver…
- In regards to the Rockies' previously reported interest in Brian Wilson, Renck tweets that the team will need to pay closer money to secure the Beard's services in 2014.
- MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby spoke with senior VP of Major League operations Bill Geivett, who reiterated that Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez will not be traded this winter. The Rockies feel that they are close to contention and are focused on adding good players as opposed to subtracting them, writes Ringolsby. He quotes Geivett: "We spent 33 days in first place and (42) more in second place last year. Things have to happen, but it's not that far."
- Finding a bat to replace Helton is the team's "No. 1 priority" writes Ringolsby, and their preference is to fill it with a left-handed bat, which would bode well for Loney and Morneau.
- Ringolsby also notes that the team can't ignore the black hole in the fifth slot in the rotation. The Rockies went 62-50 in games started by one of Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood or Juan Nicasio. In their 50 games started by a combination of seven others, Colorado was 12-38, Ringolsby points out. They could look to add two starting options in an effort to upgrade over Nicasio as well.
- Finally from Ringolsby, neither 2013 first-rounder Jonathan Gray or 2012 supplemental-rounder Eddie Butler will open 2014 in the Majors, though each could be up as early as May 1 if need be. That seems to be a particularly aggressive timeline for Gray, who threw just 24 innings at High-A last season.
The GM Meetings begin tomorrow in Orlando and run through Wednesday, but it could be a very quiet three days for the Brewers. "I don't anticipate us being overly active at this point but things could change," GM Doug Melvin told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "There's not a lot of openings in the regular lineup." Budget constraints will also play a role in the Brewers' level of activity, according to Haudricourt, as the club is approximately $14MM under its 2013 Opening Day payroll (not including arbitration and pre-arbitration salaries). Here's more from Haudricourt's piece:
- "There's nothing major on the free-agent market we'll probably get involved with," Melvin said. "Maybe we'll do something with the bullpen, make an addition or two."
- Melvin sees first base as the one position the Brewers need to fill. Re-signing Corey Hart, who is drawing interest from the Mets and a handful of other teams, is the coventional wisdom, but Melvin has only committed to speaking with agent Jeff Berry about Hart's status at some point.
- The Brewers are not believed to have interest in Justin Morneau, James Loney, and/or Mike Napoli at this stage.
- If Hart doesn't re-sign with Milwaukee, one internal option is Juan Francisco, who is showing improvement offensively during Dominican Winter League play (.338/.437/.568 with 18 RBIs – second in the DWL – in 74 at-bats including a .404/.462/.702 slash with 14 RBIs versus left-handers in 47 at-bats, per MLB.com). At the least, Haudricourt sees Francisco providing depth at both infield corners (Francisco has split his time with Licey between third base and DH while appearing in just three games at first).
- Providing middle infield depth will be Elian Herrera, who the Brewers claimed off waivers from the Dodgers on Monday. "He's somebody who can play all over the field, including shortstop if we need it," said Melvin.
James Loney was an afterthought in the August 2012 blockbuster trade that reshaped the Red Sox and Dodgers, with Boston sending Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, and cash to Los Angeles. Loney joined various Dodgers prospects coming to the Red Sox, and soon after became a free agent for the first time. He found just a $2MM guarantee with the bargain-shopping Rays, and made good by rediscovering his hitting stroke and playing his usual strong defense at first base.
Loney's line drive swing produced a .299 batting average this year, which ranked 13th in the American League. His solid .285 career batting average is owed largely to his high contact rate. He struck out just 12.9% of the time this year, a mark bested by only 17 AL players. Loney's 29.8% line drive rate this year topped all of MLB.
Loney's strong batting average helped him to a .348 on-base percentage this year, topping the typical first baseman's .332 mark. Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), which is park and league-adjusted, measures a player's total offensive value against the league average. Loney's 118 figure this year means he was 18% better than the league average hitter. Among free agents with at least 400 plate appearances, Loney's wRC+ ranked ninth among all free agents, beating out players such as Kendrys Morales, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Justin Morneau. Loney has shown he can excel in baseball card numbers as well, averaging 89 RBI per year from 2008-10.
While Loney's sweet swing had him batting fifth in the Rays' lineup for much of the year, his calling card is his defense at first base. He was a Gold Glove finalist this year, and has continually been sought out for his defense. Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman explained Loney's positives in August to MLB.com's Bill Chastain, saying, "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."
Durability is another strong suit for Loney — he's never been on the disabled list in a career that has spanned eight seasons. Aside from his tumultuous 2012, Loney has averaged 159 games per season since 2008.
Loney has youth on his side, as he doesn't turn 30 until May. And unlike free agent first basemen Mike Napoli and Kendrys Morales, Loney did not receive a qualifying offer and is not tied to draft pick compensation.
Loney is underpowered for a first baseman, a drawback for those who believe the offensive standard should be higher at his position. He's continually posted isolated power marks around .130, while the average first baseman was at .176 this year. The typical first baseman can hit at least 20 home runs, while Loney is generally good for 13 or so. Loney can still add value as a hitter, but he won't appeal to teams seeking power in free agency.
Loney hit .299/.339/.390 against left-handed pitching in 166 plate appearances this year, providing hope that he will not need to be platooned. But from 2010-12, Loney was terrible against southpaws, hitting .218/.256/.299 in 425 plate appearances.
Loney had a rough 2012 in general, hitting .249/.293/.336 in 465 plate appearances. Overall, his play was below replacement level. Loney has only been worth two-plus wins above replacement twice in his career, in 2011 and '13. Otherwise, he's often been around replacement level. Though he drove in a good amount of runs from 2008-10, Loney was still just a league average offensive player, and his defense generally doesn't make up for that. The Rays seemingly rescued Casey Kotchman's career in 2011, but he was terrible in the season that followed. Fair or not, some teams might connect the two first basemen and wonder if Loney can maintain success outside of Tampa Bay.
James' parents, Ann and Marion, met when both were basketball players at SUNY Oswego. James was born in Houston and still lives in Texas with his wife Nadia and their son, born this year. James told MLB.com's Ken Gurnick in 2008 he had a hard time deciding whether to root for the Astros or Braves as a kid. When the Dodgers drafted Loney out of high school in the first round in 2002, most teams viewed him as a pitcher, wrote Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times in 2011.
Loney is known as a laid-back player. "Loney is so calm that sometimes you wonder if there's a pulse," wrote Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe in May. "I think he's the most unaffected guy I know," Dodgers assistant GM Logan White told Hernandez in 2009. Former teammate Randy Wolf used the word "spacey," and former manager Joe Torre agreed. Giants first baseman Brandon Belt may own the nickname "Baby Giraffe," but Wolf used that term to describe Loney's awkwardness in the '09 article, and the first baseman's nickname was "Geoffrey" after the Toys R Us giraffe.
Loney changed agencies around the opening of free agency, jumping from CAA to The Legacy Agency. Without knowing the details, the agency change prior to the biggest payday of Loney's career suggests dissatisfaction with his previous contract.
Several teams may be in the market for a first baseman this winter, assuming the Rays don't retain Loney. The Brewers, Pirates, Twins, and Rockies don't have clear plans at first base, though the Rockies seem to be seeking right-handed power. The Rangers could be an option if they move on from Mitch Moreland and find bigger bats elsewhere. As far as starting first basemen, Loney's competition on the free agent market consists of Mike Napoli, Corey Hart, and Justin Morneau, plus maybe Kendrys Morales, Paul Konerko, Mark Reynolds, and Kevin Youkilis.
I expect Loney's agent to set out with a three-year deal in mind, since he's a relatively young player and the average annual value on the contract won't be staggering. Ultimately, I think he'll land a two-year, $16MM deal.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.