September 17, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox first baseman James Loney (22) at bat against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
When the Red Sox completed The Trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, they received only one major league player in return: James Loney. Far from being the centerpiece of the Dodgers' package, however, Loney was a throw-in--a warm body to play first base in Adrian Gonzalez' absence. One who would presumably have no impact with the team beyond this last miserable month .
Not so fast. Nick Cafardo has troubling news:
While the Red Sox are considering re-signing Loney and he is receptive to coming back, he may draw attention elsewhere in a sparse first base market. One team likely to kick the tires is Tampa Bay, which will likely not re-sign Carlos Pena, who has hit under .200 most of the season.
The important take away there is the first line: the Red Sox are interested in re-signing James Loney.
Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
For years, James Loney has been the "there but for the grace of God go we" first baseman. Not bad enough for LA to just cut him, but never good enough for a team to really be satisfied starting him. He's got a good glove, admittedly, but it comes at a cheap defensive position, and his bat is anemic at best for first.
Actually, anemic is being kind. Since 2007--Loney's second year and first year with really significant playing time--80 players have accumulated 500 plate appearances as a first baseman. James Loney ranks 55th in wOBA at .327, along with such legends as Chris Davis, Eric Hinske, and the dessicated corpse of Kevin Millar that was employed by our competition towards the end of his career.
And that vaunted glove, for what it's worth, has been valued at something like 5 runs by UZR over that period. DRS comes in noticeably higher at 29, but that's still less than five runs per year. Good, not great, and certainly not enough to excuse the bat.
The arguments for Loney are largely to do with the market. Will Loney be cheap? Yes. Is the market thin? Yes. But obviously money, at least in the short term, should be no object for this team and its empty payroll, and however thin the market may be there are enough players who could be available in trades or free agency (Morneau, Morales, Napoli, LaRoche) that it's hard to imagine Loney is the best they can do.
It's even possible to argue that it makes more sense for the Sox to take a risk within their system. Mauro Gomez is no defensive genius, but even he has outperformed Loney at the plate in his short stint with the team--Loney's usually mediocre bat has disappeared entirely upon his move to the AL, leaving him with a shocking .270 wOBA with the Sox. Even taking a shot with Ryan Lavarnway at first is better.
The Sox will have plenty of paths open to them for filling first next year, all of which can generally be sorted into upside or safety. A guy like LaRoche or even Mauro Gomez would probably be safety, while they'd be betting on recoveries from Morales or improvement from Lavarnway. Morneau and Mike Napoli probably fall somewhere in between.
James Loney is neither route. James Loney is a known quantity, and not one that it acceptably productive to qualify under safety. James Loney is simply not good. If he can't find a contract elsewhere, then he's welcome to come back and play in Pawtucket on a minor-league deal. But if the Sox can't find a better first baseman for their 25-man roster, they may as well call it a day and throw in the 2013 towel right now.