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.