I remember a time when I thought James Loney was going to be the first baseman of the future, that pretty swing, his natural athleticism, boy did he fool us. It’s rare that someone with all the talent that James Loney possesses is unable to put it all together. Especially after putting together a couple of nice seasons. 2009 seems like such a long time ago. That was the last time Loney put together a “good” season. Enter the downward spiral, which at the end of the of the 2010 season I said it was make or break time for Loney. The Dodgers didn’t give up on Loney after passing on topÂ Â free agent targets Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder.
I have said for two years now that the Dodgers should non-tender James Loney. Thus far the Dodgers have opted to pay Loney $14.36MM over the last three years. In return Loney has given the Dodgers a .270/.323/.386 average batting line over the last three seasons. Loney is on pace to post his career worst numbers in 2012 in a noticeable regression, and here it comes, I told you so.
I predicted that Colletti would regret it and so far Loney has been unable to prove me wrong, the chart below proves it. Instead of breaking out, Loney has continued to regress and now Loney is on the verge of failing in his last chance of “make it or break it.” Typically posting career worst numbers in every statistical category isn’t the best way to go about things as you head into your first year of free agency. Loney currently accounts for 5.98% of the Dodgers payroll,Â subsequently accountingÂ Â for -3.64% of the team’s on-field performance. Loney has a WAR of 0.0, ranking above only Mark Reynolds, Eric Hosmer, Casey Kotchman, Justin Smoak, and Michael Young, who are all negative WAR.
|162 Game Avg.||611||64||158||31||4||13||82||5||49||75||.284||.341||.423|
So all the talk of his defense, right? Sure it’s great. It’s awesome. It’s among the MLB’s best. But it doesn’t make Loney a good first baseman. He certainly doesn’t make up for his lack of offense with his defense. That WAR number doesn’t lie. It’s the best statistic in baseball for measuring a players value. So what’s left is a defensive baseball player. How many teams want a first baseman that can only play defense? Maybe a few AL teams that have a lineup that already is stacked with great hitters and an elite DH. That equates to not a whole lot if we do the math. Of course there may be a few AL teams that have a solid DH and want a better defensive first baseman. I could definitely see that scenario Â work too. In baseball generally teams want a first baseman that can hit, and that can hit consistently. Why? Because in the game of baseball first base is a hitting position, where defense is a luxury and nothing more. More importantly, first base is a power position, something else Loney is not. Loney is not a hitter, he’s not a power hitter, and he’s not an offensive player. Loney is nothing more than a great defensive baseball player that doesn’t carry his weight and can’t hit a baseball very well at all.
I fully expect the Dodgers to finally move on from the James Loney experiment this winter. They made that very clear this summer when they opted to go with Carlos Lee over Loney, of course that trade fell through. Then at the deadline the Dodgers checked in on Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Morneau, but talks didn’t last long. We have finally entered the final days of James Loney. When the final day comes and Loney is a free agent, poor James is going to be lucky to find a Major League contract. Loney will likely end up signing with a small market team like the Rays, Nationals, or Orioles on a Minor League deal. I could also see him heading to his hometown of Houston and taking a deal for the Astros. All-in-all even on a Minor League deal Loney is going to struggle beating out some of these young first basemen emerging into the game, which means we probably won’t hear his name all that much anymore. It’s hard to swallow, I know, the truth usually is, right? I know all you Loney lovers will disagree, but you are wrong. Not even Ned Colletti or Don Mattingly believe in him anymore, making an August trade even more probable. Justin Morneau has the highestÂ probability of being traded right now and I am sure there are a couple others lurking out there. Ned still has a chance to upgrade the club before the rosters expand in September, no whispers in the rumor mill yet though.
I would expect the Dodgers to explore all trade options this winter as I would assume impending free agent Mike Napoli will end up staying with the Rangers. The rest of the free agent market doesn’t feature a whole lot of options. Carlos Lee, Carlos Pena, Ty Wigginton, Lance Berkman, and Casey Kotchman are the only real options out there this winter. The trade market? Well your guess is as good as mine. Pretty much every player can be had during the winter months as long as you are willing to pay the price. As the Dodgers have shown, you can’t rule them out on any deal these days.