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Rays fit James Loney's checklist nicely

The Rays met first baseman James Loney’s criteria of playing regularly for a contender.

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The Rays met first baseman James Loney’s criteria of playing regularly for a contender.

ST. PETERSBURG — James Loney wanted a chance to play regularly. And he wanted to do so for a contending team. Together, it made his decision to sign with the Rays even easier.

"Those were the main factors," the first baseman said Friday on a conference call. "I'm excited. … I felt like this was the best opportunity and this is where I wanted to be also, so I didn't want to wait any longer."

Loney, 28, is coming off a career-worst offensive season — .249 with six homers, 41 RBIs, a .630 on-base plus slugging percentage — as he was traded from the Dodgers to the Red Sox. He said he has already been in the batting cage this winter trying to get better.

"Sometimes I felt like my timing was off a little bit and it affected my swing," he said. "I've just been working really hard keeping the same timing device and staying with that and being comfortable in that position."

Though Loney spent only five weeks with the Red Sox, he said he liked the experience of playing on the East Coast and in the American League. And he is excited about playing for manager Joe Maddon, saying, "I've heard nothing but great things."

Loney, who signed for $2 million plus another $1 million in incentives (after making $6.375 million last year), said a few other teams were interested.

Around the majors

Yanks check on Hamilton: The Yankees are doing preliminary background checks on free agent slugger Josh Hamilton, but they are not close to starting negotiations, USA Today reported. … The Yankees avoided arbitration with outfielder Brett Gardner, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $2.85 million.

Jays to Fete Delgado: The Blue Jays will honor former slugger Carlos Delgado, the franchise leader in homers (336) and RBIs (1,058), in a pregame ceremony July 21 by adding his name to the club's Level of Excellence.

Average salary up: Baseball's average salary increased 3.8 percent this year to a record $3.2 million, according to figures released by the players association. The boost was helped by the minimum salary going from $414,000 to $480,000.

D'backs, MCCarthy agree: Right-hander Brandon McCarthy, 29, reached agreement with the Diamondbacks on a $15.5 million, two-year contract, the Associated Press reported. The signing is contingent on a physical, as McCarthy, Oakland's opening day starter last season, was hit in the right side of the head by a line drive Sept. 5. He sustained an epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion and skull fracture, then underwent a two-hour surgery. McCarthy said in November that his concussion symptoms had subsided, but he still has to use caution when exerting himself. McCarthy said he planned to begin playing catch this month, then throw bullpens starting in January if all continues to go well.

Signings: Former Rays reliever Randy Choate, 37, and the Cardinals finalized a three-year, $7.5 million deal. … Right-hander Kyuji Fujikawa, 32, finalized his two-year, $9.5 million deal with the Cubs, saying, "Facing better-quality hitters was one of my motivations" for leaving Japan after 12 seasons. … Right-hander Dan Haren, 32, agreed to a one-year deal with the Nationals.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Rays fit James Loney's checklist nicely 12/07/12 [Last modified: Friday, December 7, 2012 10:20pm]
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