Brewers Anti-Hot Stove: James Loney


James Loney is kind of clutch too. He just hit the game-winning pinch hit home run. Although whoever is dumping the bucket has horrific aim. Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is a strange person to start with, I know. However, in my mind this is a person who the Brewers could actually have interest in. I could have gone big first; Robinson Cano, Ubaldo Jimenez, Curtis Granderson, and so on. Rather than writing about things that fiscally could never happen in Milwaukee, I have decided to focus on free-agents who the Brewers organization could, and in all likelihood do, have interest in. Then I will explain why we shouldn’t do it (although this article is not a great example of that because Loney could make sense if certain things fall into place). Plus, I am sick of all the “Hot-Stove” articles already and want to hear about the deals that my team shouldn’t make, so I am doing it myself.

We need a real first baseman. Mat Gamel is gone, Juan Francisco is unreliable at the plate, and Corey Hart is not a sure thing. In my opinion James Loney is the best 1st baseman available, at a Brewers level price. The Brewers cannot afford a guy like Mike Napoli.  Fact. Then there is a guy like Justin Morneau, once one of the premier hitters in baseball, and a former MVP…who is a shell of his former self. No thanks.  After that it is mostly pitchers and outfielders. Then you get to a guy like Loney, who had an amazing season for the Rays in 2013. However, per MLB Trade Rumors Loney is just a shade above Corey Hart on their Best Available Free Agents list. So, let’s see why the Brewers should NOT pursue James Loney.

First let’s talk contract. Whenever a guy has what we call “resurgence”, all that means is they will be able to get more money on a one-year deal than they could have otherwise.  If I were a betting man, Loney is probably looking for something substantially better than what he got from the Rays this season ($2M).  My guess is that on a one-year deal Loney will be looking for $5-$6M, with some incentives to make more.  Who can blame him?  It was his best offensive season since 2008 and he had a solid playoff run as well batting a respectable .315.  If for whatever reason the Brewers cannot lure Corey Hart back into the clubhouse, this would not be a terrible fallback.  However, in the past the Brewers have been preyed on by players in their 30’s after a resurgent season.  I could list all of the times we have been duped over the last 5 seasons, but I don’t have that kind of time and neither do you.  So, if Loney’s demands are $5M for one season…I actually would not be anti-this deal at all.  Anything more than that and we are just Suppaning away more money on a player who will, in all likelihood, give us moderate to sub-par production.

Speaking of production, what do you think we would get out of this guy?  Defensively, he is a substantial liability.  During his career he has a -2.1 defensive WAR.  That means on average he costs his team 2 wins per seasons with his defensive play.  This should be of some concern, especially considering the youth we will have in the middle of the infield for 2014.  Offensively, Loney has a career WAR of 6.9.  Pretty sweet.  If you balance them out, Loney could win us 5 more games next year than we would win without him…over the span of a decade.  By comparison, Corey Hart has a career 16.1 WAR offensively and a -4.5 WAR on defense.  By my math that comes out to 11.6 wins over his career.  That leads me to believe that we would get more production from Corey Hart than we would from James Loney, at the same (and maybe ever lower) price.

When you really take a step back and look at this, Corey Hart is the answer at first base.  But what if someone else sees that as well?  That is the real issue here.  Let’s say someone snags up Corey Hart and James Loney is still available for roughly $5M for just 2014…then all of a sudden Loney is not such a bad deal.  What concerns me is Uncle Mark and Aunt Doug’s propensity to offer stable veterans long-term contracts, which is really the only scenario in which I am anti-James Loney.  If Hart walks and Hunter Morris isn’t ready, you should maybe see how cheap you can get Loney for and use him as a stop-gap.  BUT, should he demand a two-year deal for $11M guaranteed…there is nothing you can say or do to convince me that the Brewers made the right call.  My being anti-Hot Stove on this guy is only applicable if the terms of his contract or more than they should be.

And let’s be honest with each other, the Brewers are notorious for making guys like Loney wealthy beyond their wildest dreams only to have them released or traded after ¾ of the season.  Only the Brewers organization has the power to make this a steal or a goat.  But I am hoping Corey comes back and this whole article is as useless as Mark Kotsay in the postseason.