Thursday, December 14, 2017
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
Are Tampa Bay Rays going to make a major deal involving Alex Colome, others? Well …

Are Tampa Bay Rays going to make a major deal involving Alex Colome, others? Well …

Rays officials headed back across I-4 this afternoon, leaving the winter meetings while working toward resolution of "advanced" trade talks that could include some of their biggest name players.Most of the attention and speculation has been on on the...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Tampa Bay Rays lose RHP Burch Smith in Rule 5 draft, keep Nick Ciuffo

Tampa Bay Rays lose RHP Burch Smith in Rule 5 draft, keep Nick Ciuffo

The Rays lost RHP Burch Smith in Thursday's Rule 5 draft but were happy to see him get an opportunity in Kansas City.They also were pleased to hang on to C Nick Ciuffo, who was left exposed but not selected.Smith, 27, was acquired from the Padres as ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 4

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 4

UPDATE, 11:09: RHP Steve Cishek, who was a very effective addition to the Rays pen last season, has reunited with pitching coach Jim Hickey, agreeing to a deal with the Cubs.UPDATE, 10:40: Like most teams, Rays officials are heading out of the meetin...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

As part of its deal to buy a massive package of 21st Century Fox assets, Disney will acquire Fox Sports Regional Networks, which control the local cable rights to a slew of professional teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning.Assu...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Bay Rays making progress in trade talks

Tampa Bay Rays making progress in trade talks

Without getting into specifics – especially the who and the where – Rays officials are for the first time talking optimistically about making a trade before the winter meetings end Thursday.Speaking at around 5:15, senior VP Chaim Bloom s...
Published: 12/13/17

Winter meetings journal: Rays trade for money to sign top international free agent

LAKE BUENA VISTA — While most of the business conducted at the meetings impacts the big-league team one way or another, the Rays are working to finalize a move they hope pays off big sometime in the 2020s.In trading Wednesday to acquire $1 million in...
Published: 12/13/17
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 3 – updated with news

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 3 – updated with news

UPDATE, 5:55: Trade talks apparently picked up this afternoon, perhaps related to previous activity by other teams, and for first time Rays officials sound like something could happen tonight."At this point today, some of those conversations are movi...
Published: 12/13/17
Market starting to set itself as Rays’ trade talks intensify

Market starting to set itself as Rays’ trade talks intensify

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Alex Colome claimed he was just showing good social media manners Tuesday night in following four Cardinals-related Instagram accounts since they were saying nice things about him.In doing so, whether for that reason or another mor...
Published: 12/13/17
Alex Corddry won’t be back on Tampa Bay Rays telecasts

Alex Corddry won’t be back on Tampa Bay Rays telecasts

Alex Corddry won't be back on Fox Sports Sun's Tampa Bay Rays telecasts.Corddry completed a one-year contract with Fox, serving as the pre-, post- and in-game reporter.  She also covers college football for ESPN and does freelance work in the Wa...
Published: 12/13/17
Is Alex Colome telling us something about Rays’ plans with his Instagram account?

Is Alex Colome telling us something about Rays’ plans with his Instagram account?

UPDATE, 9:22: So, Colome says he was just using good social media manners, tweeting (at 4:15) this morning:"I keep getting nice messages and tags from those accounts, so I gave them a follow"And, keeping his emoji game strong, adding one with arms up...
Published: 12/13/17