The Rays have their first baseman back, agreeing to a three-year, $21 million contract with James Loney on Friday. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported the terms of the deal.
According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Loney will receive $5 million as a signing bonus as part of the contract. He had drawn interest from the Pirates and Mets in recent days, and the first-base market had tightened up a bit with Corey Hart and Logan Morrison going to the Mariners earlier this week.
The 29-year-old had a resurgent season in Tampa Bay after being something of a throw-in with the blockbuster deal between the Dodgers and Red Sox last August. His .299 batting average and 75 RBI ranked second among the Rays everyday players, while his .778 OPS was the third-best mark. He also hit 33 doubles and 13 home runs in 598 plate appearances. That performance resulted in a nice raise from the $2 million Loney made this season, and the longer-term security of a multi-year contract.
Loney's batting average was the second-best of his eight-year major league career and his OPS was the highest it's been since 2007. Among American League first baseman, Loney ranked fifth in WAR at 2.7. He also provided his usual nice defense at the position, placing third among his peers with a 6.1 UZR. Additionally, he was credited with four Defensive Runs Saved.
Re-signing Loney will certainly make Rays manager Joe Maddon happy. He was outspoken during this week's winter meetings about how much he wanted to bring his first baseman back, while acknowledging that the market might price him beyond the Rays' budget.
"He played really well," Maddon told reporters on Monday, including Fox Sports Florida's Andrew Astleford. "If there is some way that he falls back, that would be great. But I don't know. He's deserving of what he gets. I think last year he showed everybody how good of a baseball player he is."
Days later, Rays general manager Andrew Friedman seemed confident that the team and Loney would reach a deal, as they were pretty close on the terms. That was obviously confirmed by the two sides agreeing to a contract — pending a physical, naturally — by the end of the week.
MLB teams looking for first basemen are facing a thinning market now. Kendrys Morales is probably the big prize available, but any team will have to surrender its first-round draft pick to sign him, as the Mariners extended him a qualifying offer. That could keep him on the market for a while. Other options include Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay and Casey Kotchman. The Mets are reportedly also looking to trade Ike Davis, with the Brewers rumored to be most interested.