Pirates GM Neal Huntington was on MLB Network yesterday to discuss the release of Allen Webster, but along the way he added that the club was looking to spell Mike Morse in the lineup. In making the comments, Huntington made his interest clear.
James Loney is the man for Pittsburgh.
The first base portion starts at 5:45 in the video. If you can't watch the video above, here's the important part:
Neal Huntington on MLB Network just said Pirates are working hard to add a lefty bat at 1B. Looking for a veteran, professional hitter— John Dreker (@JohnDreker) December 21, 2015
Huntington said they want a lefty veteran, professional hitter that's going to command the zone and work the count. In short, James Loney— lhm37 (@Homein22) December 22, 2015
Editor's Note: I know it's not "Follow Friday" but LHM is a fantastic twitter follow for any Rays fan.
Earlier this offseason the Pirates acquired OF/1B Jason Rogers and have 1B Michael Morse available. Both are right-handed, and each have a season under their belt where they defied the platoon split (Rogers 133 wRC+ vRHP in 2015; Morse 132 wRC+ vRHP in 2014), but that doesn't guarantee sustainability. Just look at Morse's 2015 line below.
|vRHP in 2015||Bats||PA||BB%||K%||OBP||ISO||BABIP||wOBA||wRC+|
James Loney is better than that league average line, and sported a 120 wRC+ against right-handed pitching in 2014. His true level of performance should be, at worst, somewhere in between. For comparison, the first baseman the Pirates let walk (Pedro Alvarez) held a 116 wRC+ against righties in 2015.
Furthermore, Morse may not be the answer as an every day first baseman. The Pirates are smart, they appreciate the need for quality defense (they just re-signed Sean Rodriguez to a major league deal). And although Loney had a poor showing in 2015 through multiple injuries, he was still strong when facing north-paws.
The Pirates let Alvarez go simply by non-tendering the slugger. He was projected to see a salary increase to something like $8 million, which is what James Loney is in line to make in 2016. Loney is a far more respected defender than Alvarez was, and while Alvarez's bat is far more powerful, it has quickly becoming just a platoon contribution.
In all of his offseason reporting on Loney, beat writer Marc Topkin has said the Rays would consider eating some salary to trade James Loney. The veteran first baseman is currently blocking prospects Richie Shaffer and Jake Bauers from the big league level, and the Rays have a first base bandaid available in Logan Morrison to start the season.
Moving Loney would be a cost-saving maneuver, but given a nice match in Pittsburgh, it's worth picking up the phone.