After being cut by the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the regular season, first baseman James Loney has signed a minor league deal with the San Diego Padres, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
While there has been no official announcement from the Padres organization, Loney tweeted his excitement about joining the team.
I’m ready for the next chapter in my life and excited to be part of the Padres org.@Padres. I can’t wait to play my 1st game this year!
— James Loney (@theloney_s) April 8, 2016
ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that Loney’s deal includes an opt-out that allows him to seek a major league opportunity elsewhere. However, the Padres still hold the right of first refusal, meaning that San Diego can choose to add Loney to their 25-man roster before Loney can go elsewhere.
Loney, who is soon to be 32-years-old, struggled with the Rays in Spring Training, leading to his removal from the roster and subsequent release. Partnered with offseason acquisitions such as Corey Dickerson, Steve Pearce, and Logan Morrison, the Rays had no clear role for Loney on their roster. Loney originally signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Rays following a rebound 2013 season in which he hit .299 with 13 HR and 75 RBI.
However, that deal didn’t provide the value the Rays hoped, as Loney’s offensive and defensive production dipped in the two seasons after signing the deal. Last season, Loney produced a subpar .280 with four HR and 32 RBI as injuries limited him to just 104 games. Fangraphs rated Loney’s defense negatively per his UZR/150 (-5.4).
The Rays are still on the hook for the entirety of Loney’s $8 million salary for the 2016 season.
Speaking to media, including the Bradenton Herald, about not making the Rays’ roster, Loney said, “At the end of the day it’s a business. Those aren’t my decisions. I have nothing to do with that.”
Despite a strong start to his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Loney never emerged into the power hitter many expected. The lefty-swinging first baseman is still a high-contact hitter with a career .338 on-base percentage. Earlier this spring, with no guarantee that he would make the Rays’ roster, Loney spoke about the upcoming season.
“Just play well. If you play well, you’re going to play,” Loney told ESPN in late February. “No matter if you’ve got a 10-year contract, there will always be people who are watching you. But you’re still playing for the team you’re on.”
Loney suiting up for the Padres’ MLB team is also far from guaranteed. The team currently has Wil Myers, the former AL Rookie of the Year in 2013, slotted in as the full-time first baseman. He has struggled to stay healthy during his two seasons with the Padres and was moved from the outfield to first base in hopes of regaining his prior form. However, as MLB Trade Rumors noted, Myers could see time in the outfield should Loney become a viable option for the Padres at first base.
San Diego also has left-handed swinging Brett Wallace on the roster. The former top prospect serves a similar role to Loney on the Padres’ roster and thus complicates his opportunity to crack the team’s MLB roster.
[Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images]