SOUTH HILLS – According to ESPN the Pirates’ top free agent target is first baseman James Loney, which seems like a pretty natural fit. Loney is left-handed, and can be paired with Gaby Sanchez in a platoon, and Loney is also a good defender and above average athlete for first base. Those are all characteristics valued by the Pirates.
Clubs that have talked to #Pirates believe James Loney emerging as their top choice at 1B. Heard they've also asked on Adam Lind & Moreland
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 4, 2013
Others in this space and elsewhere (Tim Williams over at Pirates Prospects) have thought Loney would be a natural fit for the Pirates. The fit makes sense even if it’s more solid than exciting, and so to might the dollars if they come down:
Fangraphs’ crowdsourcing pegs Loney for a two-year $15 million deal as does CBSSports.com’s mystery GM.
But Loney set his price rather high according to Yahoo! (Of course every player begins asking for the Moon before coming back down)
Source: James Loney started offseason seeking a four-year, $40M deal. Belief is he's now seeking something in the three-year, $27-30M range.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 4, 2013
I can’t imagine the Pirates would go beyond two years but he could be their version of the Russell Martin two-year splurge last offseason. Perhaps Loney’s realistic price is much lower and Justin Morneau might have set the market for middling, left-handed first baseman when he reached agreement on a two-year, $13 million deal with the Rockies on Tuesday, according to the Denver Post.
The concern with Loney is that he has ebbed and flowed from being a 2-win to 0-win player at first base, and he’s coming off one of his better seasons. Here’s the representative comment on Loney from Fangraphs:
“His 2013 numbers were unsustainable. After a great start, he batted merely .276/.322/.378 in the second half. Some GMs will need a first baseman and see his decent .299/.348/.430, but that was propped up by an unusually good April/May. I’d stay away from him completely, unless I had a gaping hole at first base and all the other good options were taken.”
I’m rather ambivalent toward the prospect of the Pirates of adding Loney.
I think you really have to believe in Loney’s defense and athleticism to give him a multi-year deal. For his career he’s a good but not great against right-handed pitching: .791 OPS, 113 wRC+.
The Rays signed him to a $3 million deal and he produced 2.7 WAR last season. Ideally that’s how you buy on a player like Loney. To me he’s become the guy every team thinks is a bargain so he’s no longer a bargain.
While I wouldn’t condemn a Loney signing I do question targeting a no-power first baseman. Still, the Pirates have a better handle on just to value his baserunner and defense, including the hard-to-measure talent of scooping out throws from the dirt which I imagine has real value like pitch framing.
*Mitch Moreland is an interesting name now available due to the addition of Price Fielder in Texas. Moreland is a .788 OPS, 106 wRC+ against right-handed pitching with worse defense than Loney .
*The guy I like the most of the group Adam Lind. He’s the ideal target if you’re looking for a bat with pop vs. right-handed pitching posting a .925 OPS and 151 wRC+ vs. right-handed pitching last season and a .850 OPS, 125 wRC+ mark for his career.
Moreover he has a really friendly club contract: ’14:$7M club option ($2M buyout), ‘15:$7.5M club option ($1M buyout), ‘16:$8M club option ($0.5M buyout)
But unlike Loney, he’ll cost a prospect or two. And probably a top 10 prospect.
At the end of the day, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pirates end up with any of these players. Who’s your preference?
DON’T STOP BELIEVING IN TRAVIS SNIDER?
Travis Snider revealed today that he required toe surgery after the season, and that he wasn’t playing through turf toe but rather bone spurs and other irritation in his left foot. See the full story there.
“It’s something I’m excited to overcome some of the mechanical compensations that arise for us as professional athletes when we go out there and try and be effective but as our body is responding the way we need it to be in position to hit a baseball,” Snider said. “I’m excited to not rebuild my swing but recalibrate it because there are some bad habits I picked up throughout the year.”
“It’s going to help to have that toe repaired and to be able get my back foot (healthy), the one that rotates in the ground every time I swing,” Snider said. “That’s the kind of the movement that aggravated my toe the most.”
The bad news is Snider lost his job and hit .215 last season. The good news is the Pirates never saw a healthy Snider and he has remaining upside. As recently as 2011 he was ranked as the No. 2 Under 25 asset in the Blue Jays’ system according to Baseball Prospectus. He is a former first-round pick. He showed patience and power in his minor league career, much more power than Jaff Decker. So it makes sense why the Pirates tendered him in this era of scarce power.