The Rays got their first choice at first base after all, reaching an agreement Friday to bring back James Loney on a three-year, $21 million deal.
Contract details are still being worked out, and the agreement is subject to Loney passing a physical. So there likely won't be an official announcement until early next week.
"So pumped to have Loney back with us," Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist said. "He's a pro in every way and makes us better as a team, both offensively and defensively."
"I know he's excited," Loney's father, Marion, said. "You want to be in a place you're wanted."
Loney, 29, made a strong impression on the Rays last season, hitting .299 with 13 homers and 75 RBIs while being a Gold Glove finalist.
He also made himself a considerable amount of money after playing for $2 million last year, coming off a rough 2012 when he was traded from the Dodgers, for whom he started his career, to the Red Sox.
Though the Rays let Loney head into free agency, they seemed to have him atop their list throughout the offseason while exploring other free agent and trade options such as Ike Davis (Mets) and Mitch Moreland (Rangers).
When reports circulated Loney was seeking $27 million to $30 million over three years, it seemed like he might be too expensive, and with interest from the Pirates, Brewers and Astros, there might be too much competition. The third year likely was the bigger issue for the Rays, through it will stabilize a position that has been an annual issue.
The Rays figured, at the least, they had familiarity and comfort on their side.
"The good thing for us is he liked it here," team president Matt Silverman said recently on WDAE-AM 620. "We liked him. He fit in well. And we're a known quantity. When he's thinking about other things out there, he won't know what the other clubhouses are like.
"He won't know what it's like living in that city. And so that gives us a little bit of an advantage. Our wallet isn't as big as other teams', so that's one disadvantage for us."
Rays manager Joe Maddon called Loney around Thanksgiving but didn't sound optimistic when relaying the conversation earlier this week.
"He was very noncommittal in his conversation," Maddon said. "He was very nice, very cordial, very good. But I think he's in a position right now to probably go after the best contract he's ever going to get. So do I blame him? No. Do I want him back? Yes."
With Loney's left-handed bat in the lineup, the Rays can now go about filling out their bench.
• Outfielder Todd Glaesmann, the Rays' 2012 minor-league player of the year, was sent to Arizona as the player to be named in the three-way trade that netted reliever Heath Bell and catcher Ryan Hanigan. Glaesmann, 23, a third-round pick in 2009, hit .240 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs at Double-A Montgomery in 2013 and .285 with 21 homers and 75 RBIs at Class A Bowling Green and Class A Charlotte in 2012. Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said at the time of the trade he considered the player to be named the key to the deal that also took Bell's $9 million salary off the books (with $3.5 million paid by the Marlins). Reliever Justin Choate was previously sent to Arizona.
• Infielder Ryan Roberts, a free agent who played 60 games for the Rays and 37 at Triple-A Durham last year (while making $2.95 million), signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs.