Saturday, May 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

James Loney appears to be Rays' odd man out

James Loney was more than willing to answer a few questions during an amicable weekend phone chat about his future with the Rays, which has become increasingly uncertain through their series of offseason moves to improve the offense.

But he wanted to ask a couple of questions, too.

Most pointedly, "What do you think? You think I'm going to get traded?"

Ultimately, that's the million-dollar question. Or, technically, the $8 million question, given a salary that would be second highest among the Rays.

With spring training about to start, Loney certainly seems to be the odd man out.

In trading for Logan Morrison then signing Steve Pearce, the Rays added two potentially powerful hitters who would fit in best playing first base (more so than the outfield) or DH. Then they traded for Corey Dickerson and indicated they plan to keep their other outfielders, making him likely the primary DH.

To me, to you, to scouts with other teams, to people who work around and for the Rays, it appears Loney has been left without a job.

But not necessarily to Loney.

He plans to head to Port Charlotte next week with the idea that he is still very much their first baseman.

"Oh yeah, for sure," Loney said. "I would think so. That's my thought process going into it."

Though admittedly not following all the moves that closely, Loney isn't ready to accept that there isn't room for him.

"You're always just trying to make your team better, at whatever position that is," he said. "Tampa (Bay) is always known for bringing guys in that can play multiple positions. So you never know exactly where someone is going to play if they play multiple positions. …

"I know that with (John) Jaso being gone, I know there's a spot there at DH. And that we've got a few outfielders. They haven't said anything to me. I'm just going in and getting ready for the season."

Loney would have a stronger case if he were coming off a better 2015 foundation.

Though he missed 51 games due to injury (oblique strain, fractured finger), his overall performance was disappointing: a decent .280 average, but run production far from it — four homers and 32 RBIs in 104 games.

That has always been kind of the rap on Loney — that he played smooth defense and could hit for average but didn't produce like a typical first baseman.

And of the 27 big-leaguers who played 100 or more games at first last year, he ranked in the bottom three in homers and RBIs and with a .680 on-base plus slugging percentage.

"Last year was tough," said Loney, who turns 32 in May. "With the couple injuries I had, it was just one of those years. It was just a little up and down. I'm just looking forward to this year now."

The Rays put themselves in this position, extending to a three-year, $21 million offer — the largest free agent contract of the Stuart Sternberg regime — after Loney's $2 million mutually beneficial bargain debut in 2013, when he hit .299 with 13 homers, 75 RBIs and a .778 OPS while playing stellar defense.

But now the bill is coming due. Saving the $8 million, or even part of it if they have to eat a couple million to facilitate a deal, would be good, especially given his dropoff in production. But creating the playing time for the new pieces in their lineup is the priority.

Again, Loney doesn't see why he should be the one to go, pointing out that he has been their best hitter — in batting average — during his time here.

"If it's just on my salary, okay, that's one thing," Loney said. "But over the last three years I led the team in average, you know (at .291). So I don't think it's necessarily a performance thing based off last year. But you never know."

Loney said he understands trades — and trade rumors — are part of the business, especially now. And he gave no indication such a scenario, even though it's kind of a baseball version of dead man walking, would bother him, much less leave him moping or being a negative influence.

David DeJesus was in a similar position last spring, with no position and rampant speculation. But the Rays hung on to him, and when Jaso got hurt opening day then Desmond Jennings went down in April, DeJesus became a key part of the lineup until being traded in July. Loney knows that even if he stays now, that could happen, too.

Officially, the Rays aren't saying anything beyond that they like to have plenty of options and that the depth is a good hedge given the potential for injuries. They have to be confident Jennings is ready to play every day, Morrison is a good enough first baseman, and more. When pressed, baseball operations president Matt Silverman acknowledged that if everyone is healthy, they "probably have one too many."

Loney has been working out in San Diego, keeping busy with his and Nadia's second son, 3½-month-old Aidan, plus soon-to-be 3-year-old Jordan. He has been around enough to know he doesn't know what's going to happen and can't control anything except working hard to be ready to be — somewhere.

Told it was my guess he was going to be traded, Loney said he had one more question:

"Before spring training, or during?"

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

 
Comments
Rays journal: Rays shut out by Orioles in opener

Rays journal: Rays shut out by Orioles in opener

By Joey JohnstonTimes CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — Rays LHP Ryan Yarbrough deserved better Friday. But the offense didn't offer much, allowing the Orioles to escape with a 2-0 victory before an announced crowd of 11,354 at Tropicana Field."It ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rays trade closer Alex Colome, outfielder Denard Span to Mariners

Rays trade closer Alex Colome, outfielder Denard Span to Mariners

ST. PETERSBURG – In January, sure.In July, absolutely.But, now?And, once again, for someone who they hope helps in the future.The Rays made a shocking trade at a surprising time of year Friday, dealing All-Star closer Alex Colome and Tampa...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

The Rays made a major trade Friday afternoon, sending All-Star closer Alex Colome and OF Denard Span to the Mariners.The return is two minor-leaguers, RHP Andrew Moore and RHP Tommy Romero. The Rays also sent cash to the Mariners.Span, a Tampa produc...
Updated: 12 hours ago
For starters: Sergio Romo on mound tonight as Rays open series against Orioles

For starters: Sergio Romo on mound tonight as Rays open series against Orioles

By JOEY JOHNSTONTimes CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — For openers, the Rays will use RHP Sergio Romo, the 35-year-old career reliever, as tonight's starter against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field.Romo is making his third career "sta...
Published: 05/25/18
Alex Cobb excited about return “home” to Trop even in Orioles orange

Alex Cobb excited about return “home” to Trop even in Orioles orange

RHP Alex Cobb has already pitched twice against his former Rays mates in Baltimore and said it didn't feel that weird, especially since there were so many new faces in the lineup.But coming back to the Trop, where he made his big-league debut and spe...
Published: 05/25/18
Willy Adames goes back to AAA, leaving Rays with “a lot to be excited about’

Willy Adames goes back to AAA, leaving Rays with “a lot to be excited about’

Willy Adames' first stint in the major leagues ended as planned Thursday night when he was optioned back to Triple-A Durham at the end of his planned three-game cameo filling in for new father Joey Wendle.Adames said going back down was "tough" even ...
Published: 05/25/18
Rays journal: Blake Snell, flying Denard Span finally solve Red Sox

Rays journal: Blake Snell, flying Denard Span finally solve Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG — Having lost two straight and nine of 12 times overall to the Red Sox, the Rays needed two things to go right Thursday:First, a strong start from Blake Snell.Second, some early runs against Rick Porcello from an offense that had...
Published: 05/24/18
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Thursday’s Rays-Red Sox game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Thursday’s Rays-Red Sox game

Home cooking clearly agrees with OF Denard Span. The 34-year-old Tampa product continues to deliver, producing at the plate, running the bases, making diving catches in the outfield, and Thursday, even going over the short sidewall twice in hot pursu...
Published: 05/24/18
Rays once again will ‘open’ with relievers this weekend

Rays once again will ‘open’ with relievers this weekend

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays weren't kidding about being serious that starting relievers gives them the best chance to win.So much so, they plan to do so again this weekend against the Orioles — in all three games. The plan is for Sergio Rom...
Published: 05/24/18
Rays tripling down on starting relievers vs. Orioles this weekend: Romo, Stanek, Romo

Rays tripling down on starting relievers vs. Orioles this weekend: Romo, Stanek, Romo

The Rays aren't kidding about being serious in using relievers to start games.After unveiling the strategy last weekend against the Angels, manager Kevin Cash said they planned to use it again, and he made that official on Thursday, naming Sergio Rom...
Published: 05/24/18