James Loney and Tampa Bay Rays Reportedly Agree to Contract

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2012

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04:  James Loney #22 of the Boston Red Sox doubles against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 4, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays have filled their hole at first base by agreeing to a deal with free agent James Loney, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

james loney has deal with #rays. good time to buy (low).@tbrownyahoo 1st reported close.

— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 3, 2012

UPDATE: Thursday, December 6 at 3:15 p.m. ET by Timothy Rapp

Details of Loney's deal have emerged, via CBS Sport's "Eye on Baseball" blog:

Rays deal with James Loney now official: One year, $2mm.

— Eye on Baseball (@EyeOnBaseball) December 6, 2012

As low-risk contracts go, this one takes the cake. Loney isn't a great player by any means, but at this price the Rays are likely to get their money's worth.

---End of Update---


Loney joined the Boston Red Sox in late August as a part of the team's massive salary dump trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He posted a .264 on-base percentage with 30 games and the Red Sox decided against bringing him back.

As Heyman mentions, it's a buy-low deal for the Rays. They aren't capable of spending the type of money their AL East rivals can, including the suddenly big-spending Toronto Blue Jays, which means the front office has to take some chances.

The 28-year-old first baseman first made an impact in 2007 when he slugged 15 home runs in just 96 games for the Dodgers while posting a career-high .916 OPS. At that point, it looked like he would be a key cog in Los Angeles for a long time.

However, he's never been able to match those numbers. In fact, Loney's stats have been gradually declining ever since. He hit just six homers in 144 games between the Dodgers and Red Sox last season, all but eliminating that prior optimism.

Perhaps moving out of the spotlight that comes along with playing in Los Angeles and Boston and joining the Rays will allow the pressure to lift off Loney's shoulders.

Expectations have been high ever since his terrific first extended stay in the big leagues. The fact he hasn't been able to live up to the hype has likely played a role in his recent struggles.

Getting to play for Joe Maddon should also help. The Rays Manager doesn't usually get to work with the level of talent the New York Yankees or Detroit Tigers have, but he finds a way to maximize what he does have and gives Tampa Bay a chance to contend.

Even though it's highly unlikely Loney will return to a 20-homer pace, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him bounce back with around 10 home runs and an OBP around .340. Paired with good defense, he'll be a solid signing.

Like most moves the Rays make, it's not flashy, but it fills it a need and gives Maddon another piece to work with.