Earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Rays informed James Loney he would not make the team in his final year of a three year, $24 million dollar deal. For Tampa, it means paying $8 million unless another team claims him on waivers. For Loney, it means likely signing with a team in need of a first baseman who plays solid defense and can hit a little bit.
Loney’s numbers have declined each year he’s been in Tampa, culminating in a .280/.322 line with just four home runs and 32 RBI in 388 plate appearances last season.
Here are Loney’s most likely destinations:
White Sox: Sure, they can move Jose Abreu to first and have Melky Cabrera get every day at bats, taking away its outfield flexibility and forcing Abreu into an everyday fielding job. Or, the White Sox can properly replace Adam Laroche with another veteran who also happens to be younger. Loney is still only 31-years-old (and will turn 32 in May) and would be worth the stabilizing presence in a quickly diminishing locker room.
Pirates: Pittsburgh has the opportunity to use a combination of: Michael Morse, David Freese and John Jaso to man first base this year. Each offer different strengths ranging from power to getting on base to postseason heroism, but Loney would bring his solid glove and his ability to get on base. With three players essentially vying for one position in the NL, the Pirates could build a more diverse roster by bringing in the more complete Loney.
Astros: Tyler White is currently the starting first baseman in Houston. The 33rd round selection and non roster invitee could be a revelation at 25-years-old following a scorching spring where he hit .348/.446/.990. He could also be a flash in the pan for a team who could use a solid glove at first, a veteran presence and a consistent bat. The Astros signing Loney, likely at the expense of Matt Duffy or Preston Tucker, could be worth it for a team looking to compete.
Yankees: There’s no question who the starter would be. The Yankees still have Mark Teixeira for as long as he can stay on the field and Loney wouldn’t find any opportunities at DH with Alex Rodriguez using the spot permanently. Still, Yankees’ built in backup, Greg Bird, is out for the year, Chris Parmalee is expendable and next on the roster chart stashed away in AAA and Loney would immediately make the most sense as a final bench spot.
With Austin Romine and Aaron Hicks guaranteed roles as backups in all three outfield positions and catcher, Dustin Ackley could back up mostly everywhere else with Starlin Castro backing up Didi Gregorius at shortstop and Rob Refsnyder lurking in the minors in case of injury. The Yankees could sell Loney on a likely spot on the roster in 2017 as well, with Teixeira unlikely to return and Bird recovering from a torn labrum.