As rosters began to finalize for every major league team there are inevitably some very tough choices. The Tampa Bay Rays faced such a choice when they decided to part ways with their starting first baseman for the past three seasons. James Loney was the Rays first baseman, but the team DFA’d him as they look for more power from the position. A common theme for Loney and the teams he has played for. He does lack power.
Less than a week ago the Rays told Loney he would not be making the opening day roster. He was still owed eight million dollars by the Rays, but the team decided to eat his contract instead of carrying him on their 25-man roster. The left-handed first baseman was signed by the Rays prior to the 2013 season for $21 million dollars and three seasons. He played decent his first two seasons, but his numbers dropped dramatically last season.
In 2013 season Loney had a slash line of .299/.348/.430 with 13 homers and 75 RBI. That was in 158 games for the Rays. The next season Loney played in 155 games and his slash line was .290/.336/.380 with nine homers and 69 RBI. The drop in his power numbers was noticeable, especially when Loney has very little power in his bat in the first place. Last season in 104 games Loney hit .280 with four home runs and 32 RBI. He still managed a .322 on base percentage in 2015, but you really need more pop from a traditionally power hitting position.
Loney’s numbers are clearly trending the wrong way, so why in the world did the San Diego Padres sign him? Wil Myers seems content on playing first base and has said on numerous occasions that he would like to stay at the position. Myers still has the ability to play the outfield, but why mess with the mans psyche again? The Padres tries to turn him into a center fielder, which failed but he tried. Putting him at first seemed like a long-term solution, but was Loney brought in to take playing time from Myers at first? It’s not as though the Padres have no outfielders at the moment. With Matt Kemp, Jon Jay, Melvin Upton Jr., Travis Jankowski and Jabari Blash already competing for playing time, where does Myers fit in? What are the Padres doing?
James Loney would be a nice left-handed option off the bench for the Friars, but Brett Wallace already has that job. Perhaps the Padres collected Loney as insurance for Wallace and his balky foot. A foot injury forced Wallace to miss nearly three weeks of camp. The slugging Wallace has something that Loney does not though. Wallace can provide a power hitter off the bench, where Loney is a line drive hitter. His approach is very similar to that of former Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso.
It is reported that Loney may opt out of his minor league deal with the Padres at any time if he were given a major league deal elsewhere. Not likely at this point as Loney lost his job to Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce. Both journeyman players are nothing special and clearly the Rays had seen enough of Loney. His skills are diminishing and that cannot be denied. Loney did however go 2-4 in his debut Friday night in El Paso. He looks ready to make a run at returning to the big leagues.
At the age of 31, Loney is not old by any sense of the imagination. He handles the bat well and makes decent contact. He could be serviceable off the bench but his days of starting everyday are probably over. The San Diego Padres signed Loney to provide depth at Triple-A and also to give the team some insurance at first base. The Padres are not all that crazy for signing Loney, but they would be crazy if they give him consistent at bats at the major league level.