James Loney and Platooning | The Process Report

James Loney and Platooning

Going into the winter meetings the Rays were asking themselves—who’s on first? The answer became clearer with reported signing of James Loney to a one-year, $2 million deal. Loney may not provide the impact some had hoped for, but with a modest salary, and a sound—yet unspectacular—skill set, he could provide moderate reward.

Offensively, Loney is what he is: a left-handed hitter, who has proven capable against right-handed pitching with above-average contact skills, considerate discipline, and gap power. Those attributes, while not sexy, could make for a decent strong-side platoon piece. And at $2 million, the team may still have some funds earmarked for a right-handed partner. That said, a Loney-led platoon only makes sense if…

The partner is a substantial offensive upgrade versus left-handed pitching. Right-handed batters like Casey McGehee and Carlos Lee may seem like potential fits on paper, however, neither have proven to be offensive powerhouses in recent seasons, and provide little value outside of their right-handedness. If the Rays are going to carry a bat-only first baseman from the right side, the impact on offense must be significant enough to justify handing a 25-man roster spot to someone with limited value otherwise.

This brings us to the next scenario…

The team may opt for a player who may provide less of an offensive punch, but has value outside of the batters’ box. Ideally, this would be someone like Jeff Keppinger. The unconventional “masher” of left-handed pitching, Keppinger—on top of being a good right-handed hitter —is not limited to first base. And although he is far from range-y, he proved to be serviceable at first, second, and third base under the Rays’ defensive scheme. If Tampa Bay can find a righty capable of playing the four corners (perhaps Mike Olt), it would provide the club with additional value beyond a first-base platoon, considering two projected lefties (Matt Joyce and Sam Fuld) in the outfield and Evan Longoria‘s surgically repaired hamstring. Depending on the other moves this offseason, the team may be able to mold Sean Rodriguez into this type of role along with his ability to play up the middle.

Information is king around these parts, but flexibility is a close second. With that in mind, carrying a right-handed first baseman just because Loney hits left-handed is not a given. Such a player must be capable of providing meaningful offensive production and/or value in another area. If not, then the team may choose to bite the bullet and play Loney versus lefties; a sub-optimal outcome for all parties—except the opposition—but one that would free the additional roster spot for something of more consequence.



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