— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 4, 2013
That bit of info wasn’t surprising, although it’s the first time this offseason the Pirates have been formally linked to the Tampa Bay Rays‘ James Loney. Many writers, including our own Matt Shetler, have projected Loney as a good match for the Bucs, but Stark’s report is a tangible reason to expect the Pirates to at least make an offer to the 29-year-old.
For the Rays’ part, team president Matt Silverman expressed interest in retaining Loney, who enjoyed a bounce-back season after some disappointing years with the Dodgers. The left-handed hitter posted a .778 OPS and a 118 OPS+ in 2013, meaning he was 18 percent better than the average American League first baseman. Loney is also a good defender, although that’s not a tremendous concern at his position.
Loney would also slide nicely into a platoon with the righty-swinging Gaby Sanchez, who was tendered a contract by the Pirates on Monday. It seems the Bucs and general manager Neal Huntington are content with making first base a tandem position as it was for most of 2013, as Adam Lind and Mitch Moreland are also lefties.
Loney earned $2 million on a one-year deal with the Rays, but his market value is much higher after his resurgence. Former Pirate Justin Morneau has reportedly received a two-year, $13-million contract from the Rockies, and he has been league average or worse since 2010.
Moreland, 28, and Lind, 30, are both still in their primes, although Lind was demonstably better in 2013. Both players have manned right field often in their careers, so they bring versatility that Loney can’t match. Still, Loney was worth nearly three wins above replacement last year, while Lind generated about 1 1/2 and Moreland less than one. Lind (Toronto) and Moreland (Texas) are still under contract to their respective clubs.