James Loney is the position player the Dodgers are most willing to move according to Ken Rosenthal. The hostile (and snarky) response here is, “Duh.” The more tactful response includes noting that Loney is not the kind of player that a team should overpay for his production. That statement is banal as it can apply to just about any player, but Loney’s production is more easily replaceable than most, which is exactly why his trade value is likely minimal.
Loney’s best offensive tool is his ability to make contact. He does not walk a ton and certainly lacks the slugging ability that is de rigueur of the position. Just as quickly as folks are willing to embrace the stereotypical hulking first baseman, they too will embrace the defensive wizard who carries a twig to the plate – Loney is neither. None of UZR, DRS, or the Fans Scouting Report suggests that Loney’s defense borders on elite – or even well above average.
At age 23, Loney played in 96 games and hit .331/.381/.538 with 15 home runs in 375 plate appearances. Expectations rose and have undoubtedly bloomed bitterness with the results since. Loney’s wRC+ has dropped in each season since (from 140 in 2007 to 105, then 104, and most recently 98). His home run totals have remained consistent (15, 13, 13, and then 10) as have his runs batted in totals (67, 90, 90, and 88) which likely raises his perceived value among the casual observers. Here is this graph with the sole purpose of terminating those warm fuzzy feelings about Loney’s offense:
The aforementioned consistency in scoreboard statistics will likely translate into a raise in arbitration. Loney made $3.1 million last season and this is his second season with arbitration eligibility. That leaves age as the only conceivable advantage Loney holds over the various free agent options. Lyle Overbay, Adam LaRoche, Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, Paul Konerko, Aubrey Huff, Derrek Lee, Lance Berkman, and quasi-first basemen like Nick Johnson, Lance Berkman, Troy Glaus, and Russell Branyan are on the open market. There are only so many seats available and any team willing to wait out the market will likely find themselves a bargain deal.
Even if the Dodgers want to sign a masher and keep Loney around as defensive sub they can cut costs and improve efficiency by paying someone like Casey Kotchman to come off the bench and bat lefty instead of Loney. That is why it makes perfect sense for the Dodgers to attempt to replace Loney, but also perfect sense for other teams to avoid Loney.
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