Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays add first baseman James Loney

NASHVILLE — Adding first baseman James Loney is the kind of deal the Rays typically make, picking up a veteran, coming off a down year, at a low price, with thoughts he can do better in their colors.

So while they did that Monday — agreeing to terms on a one-year deal for $2 million plus another $1 million in incentives that will be official after a physical today — they continue to discuss a move that would be somewhat uncharacteristic, in trading one of their top starting pitchers.

"I've come to grips that it may happen," manager Joe Maddon said. "Do I want it to happen? Not necessarily."

In Loney, the Rays get a 28-year-old left-hander who at the least projects to be the primary starting first baseman, playing in a platoon against right-handed starters. He is coming off a miserable 2012 season, with career lows in average (.249), homers (six), RBIs (41), on-base percentage (.293) and on-base plus slugging (.630), and was traded in the August mega-deal from the Dodgers, where he'd been his entire career, to the Red Sox.

Maddon — while not confirming the deal — said the Rays have liked a lot about Loney for several years, citing his tremendous defense, the "quality" of his at-bats and "a real calmness" in his approach to the game.

Further, that they feel they could be getting Loney at the right time as he gets past underachieving, borrowing radio man Dave Wills' phrase that "there's probably some chicken left on the bone."

But the Dodgers, while praising Loney as a person and teammate, sounded like they had seen enough.

Manager Don Mattingly: "I always thought there was more there, we just couldn't get to it. At the end of the day, he just wasn't hitting with any power and for us he was kind of trending backward."

Former manager Joe Torre: "The only thing that always puzzled me is, why can't this guy be a better player? It certainly wasn't from the lack of wanting to be and working at it. Sometimes he got in his own way. … Defensively he's a plus and offensively he's a mystery."

Signing Loney, who obviously wanted the opportunity as he took a big cut from last year's $6.375 million salary, was the first in a series of somewhat related moves to fill out the roster as they still need a DH, frontline outfielder (and preferably a centerfielder, from what Maddon said) or middle infielder, a reliever or two, maybe another catcher.

But the bigger guidepost is whether to trade a starter and, if so, which one (James Shields remains the hot rumor) and for which of multiple offers they are considering.

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said they talked Monday with teams about "different concepts, different structures" but wouldn't handicap the likelihood of a deal. They have been linked in assorted reports to a number of teams, some more realistic than others, such as the Royals (prospect Wil Myers), Rangers (Mike Olt), Dodgers (shortstop Dee Gordon), Marlins (shortstop Yunel Escobar) and Nationals (outfielder Michael Morse, infielder Danny Espinosa).

"My job, my responsibility to the fans, the organization, the people in the clubhouse is to put together as good of a team as we can to have a chance to win championships. So that's the goal, that's what we're trying to do," Friedman said. "We have to be willing to make bold moves and not always take the safe route to give us the best possible opportunity of sustaining this level of success."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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