Hoping to improve on the dismal numbers posted by veteran Carlos Pena, the Tampa Bay Rays signed free agent James Loney to a 1 year, $2 million contract on Monday, December 3, to compete at first base in 2013. The 28 year-old was formerly a prized prospect with the Los Angles Dodgers and actually enjoyed several effective seasons in the National League. However, the left-handed batter rapidly plummeted in recent times and now seeks to get his career back on track with a new club. Here is a profile of the new first baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays.
— James Loney was born on May 7, 1984 in Houston, Texas. He excelled as a hitter and pitcher for Lawrence E. Elkins High School in Missouri City, Texas.
— The Texas native is selected in the 1st round of the 2002 amateur draft with the 19th overall pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Loney was ranked as the 34th overall prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America prior to the 2003 season.
— The lefty was initially assigned to play rookie ball for the Great Falls Dodgers of the Pioneer League. Using the 18 year-old at first base, Loney made quite an impression by hitting .370 with 5 home runs and 30 RBI in 170 at bats in 2002.
— Loney spent the next 3 seasons in Florida competing for the Vero Beach Dodgers and Jacksonville Suns. He struggled throughout 2003 and 2004, but emerged in 2005 with a .284 average and 11 HR and 65 RBI in 138 games.
— With veteran Nomar Garciaparra injured, the 22 year-old Loney became the Opening Day first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006. Only batting .225 through 3 weeks in the big leagues, however, the 22 year-old was returned to Triple-A by the end of April.
— Loney captured the organization’s attention during the rest of 2006, when he averaged a sweltering .380 in 366 minor league at bats for the Las Vegas 51s. He is recalled by the Dodgers later in 2006 and hit 4 home runs in the season’s final month.
— The first baseman began 2007 at Triple-A, before returning to Los Angles for good on June 10. Garciaparra was moved to third base and Loney began a 5 year run as the team’s regular first baseman. Posting his best career numbers, Loney hit .331 with 15 HR and 67 RBI in 2007 and finished 6th in the voting for NL Rookie of the Year.
— From 2008 to 2011, Loney was a steady influence in the Dodgers’ lineup and missed only a combined 10 games. Though his stats indicate that he failed to emerge as a star, the young infielder posted steady numbers, played above-average defense, and never struck out more than 95 times in a single season. During these 4 years, Loney averaged .281 with 12 HR and 83 RBI per season.
— Following the 2011 season, Loney was involved in a traffic accident on the 101 Freeway near Sherman Oaks, California. The 27 year-old was accused of side-swiping multiple cars at an excessive speed in a Maserati sports car. Loney was later found pulled over in a semi-conscious state, after attempting to flee the scene. The athlete was arrested on suspicion of DUI, but charges were eventually dismissed. Despite the poor publicity, and a career-low 65 RBI in 2011, Loney agreed to a single year $6.3 million contract with the Dodgers for his final arbitration-eligible season in 2012.
— Still serving as the Dodgers’ everyday first baseman, Loney endured the worst season of his career in 2012. However, carrying a career-worst .254 average, the impending free agent was traded to the Boston Red Sox on August 25 in a mega-deal that acquired Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Adrian Gonzalez. Things proved no kinder in the American League, where Loney averaged a meager .230 in 30 games.
— Not tendered by Boston, Loney became a free agent on October 29, 2012 and hit the open market. Hoping to rebuild a tarnished reputation on and off the field, the 28 year-old signed a $2 million contract on December 3 with the Tampa Bay Rays, who sought an affordable upgrade on the aging Carlos Pena. The 1 year deal included an additional $1 million of performance incentives and Loney is expected to serve as the perennially-competitive club’s regular first baseman in 2013.
Yahoo! Sports, Baseball-Reference.com, Milb.com.
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Jeff Briscoe is a regular contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and a follower of the Tampa Bay Rays . He talks Rays’ baseball and more on The Sports Train radio show in Southwest Florida.