With last night's surprising news of the massive six player deal that netted the Rays another first baseman in Logan Morrison, where does that leave the incumbent James Loney? Is his roster spot at risk?
Following the conclusion of the 2013 season, James Loney became a free agent and was coming of one of the best seasons of his career as he slashed .299/.348/.430 with 13 home runs, giving him a 117 wRC+. Combined with his great glove over at first, Loney carried terrific value heading into free agency.
In December the Rays made a surprising move as they signed the first baseman to a three year deal with a guaranteed $21 million, making it one of the team's largest deals ever given out to a free agent.
The contract would be significantly backloaded, as Loney made just $1 million in 2014 (with a $5 million signing bonus). Perhaps the structure was intended to allow a trade after that necessary year, as his pay went up substantially in 2015 to $7 million, and next year he'll make even more at $8 million. That's a lot of money in Rays-land.
It would appear the three year deal was what it took to bring Loney back, and after his strong performance in 2013 it made sense to do so.
The following season Loney had a slight decline but still had a decent year, however in 2015, Loney's offense fell off a cliff. This may have been due to lingering injuries, as Loney had two separate stints on the disabled list, but the end result was one of the worst offensive seasons in team history for a first baseman. An incredible feat.
With offense at first base at an all-time low for the franchise, are the Rays intent on moving Loney?
Not so fast. By all reports, Logan Morrison has just passable defense at first, a significant downgrade from Loney. If he can provide the pop that Tampa Bay has been missing from the position he may be a suitable replacement, but It's not like the Rays to forego defense for offense.
Loney is not certainly not redundant on this roster, but having multiple options at first base does make Loney more expendable. Not only is Morrison available as Plan B, but prospect Richie Shaffer is also waiting in the wings, and he might have some thump as well.
But even if the Rays wanted to move James Loney, could they?
The current free agent market for first baseman is rather weak, so there might be a market for Loney. After all, some team could bank on Loney having a comeback year and pay him the $8 mil and just flip a lottery ticket prospect to the Rays. Heck, taking the contract off the Rays' books is the value in and of itself.
This aspect makes a trade somewhat, as the Rays could certainly use the amount they would have spent on Loney somewhere else more valuable.
There is always the chance, though, that dealing him this winter could come back to bite the team and Loney could have a very successful year. If the team feels that's within the realm of possibility, they may want to hold on to him him until the 2016 trade deadline and see if he can regain value and possibly net a bigger catch.
When Matt Silverman announced the Karns-Miller trade, he stated that he liked Morrison for his bat, which sounds like a DH, meaning he would be the more focused replacement for John Jaso on the roster, another hitter without a position who is best suited to exclusively face right handed pitching.
In any case, it's just November 6th and there's over two months of rumors to be heard and gossiped about until pitchers and catchers report to spring training and the Rays have just started the wild ride in what should be a very exciting off-season.