James LoneyThe Rays released one veteran today and made a second move that will likely lead to the release of another. The two moves together will not only be costly, but it shows a fundamental shift in the way the team thinks.

First comes news that the Rays have released catcher Rene Rivera, according to Marc Topkin. Rivera was set to make $1.7 million this season. However, since it was an arbitration contract, the Rays will only owe him about one-fourth of that, or about $500,000.

The second move was the report that the Rays have informed James Loney that he will not make the opening day roster (also via Topkin). We already knew the Rays have been desperately trying to move him with Logan Morrison set to be the starting first baseman against right-handed pitchers. While there is still a chance the Rays could swing a deal…

…it almost certainly won’t happen now as teams will just wait for his eventual release.

Loney was set to make $8.0 million this year in the final season of his 3-year, $21 million contract. Barring something shocking, the Rays are going to have to pay every penny of that, meaning the Rays are on the hook for about $8.5 million for these two players.

But let’s ignore for a moment how costly it is for a team with a payroll under $70 million to swallow nearly $9 million in salaries. The two moves are also a very telling sign into the current direction of the team.

For the most part, Rivera and Loney are still the same players the Rays valued when they were acquired. That is, they are outstanding defensively with sub-par bats. By cutting both players, the Rays are finally admitting that there is only so far a team can go with good pitching and defense, and that eventually, you need to score runs.

We already saw the team add several bat-first players this offseason, so we knew the tide had shifted a little bit. But now it is clear, this team will no longer tolerate players who are a detriment with the bat even if they have a good glove. That doesn’t mean the Rays are abandoning good defense. Quite the contrary. The Rays are still placing a premium on playing good defense with players like Kevin Kiermaier and Evan Longoria. But if they have to choose between a good bat and a good glove, these moves, along with the addition of players like shortstop Brad Miller, shows that the team will now err on the side of good offense.

If anything, the team is now treating defense much like they treat the bullpen. That is, they look for players with potential (Miller and Morrison have both shown flashes of good defense), add in some top-level coaching, and hope they can either maximize the potential where other teams have failed or catch lightning in a bottle for a season or two.

In other words, these are no longer the Andrew Friedman Rays and things just got very interesting.

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10 Comments

  1. Geoff Peterson says:

    Neither Rivera or Loney are part of the long term plans of this club. While I'll miss Loney's reliable bat and really respect him as a player and leader, I think it's the right move. It's time to make some room for guys that will be part of the 5 year plan.

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  2. Chris says:

    But I don't understand, if they're gonna have to pay Loney the 8m anyways, why not keep him? He's hitting .281 in spring training, which isn't earth shattering, but still above MLB average. He's approached 300 several times in his Rays career. Sure, he's not a power guy, but he can hit. What's the reasoning behind releasing him if you still have to pay his contract?

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  3. Walter says:

    This is really bad analysis. We've learned that Loney is bad at everything except hitting ground balls, and that Rivera is just too bad of a hitter. Not to get too statsy, but they both had negative WAR last year and are over 31. The whole league knows they're roughly worthless.
    Rivera was a flyer who didn't pan out, Loney was a legit bad contract. These things happen, sometimes a team needs to cut their losses. Friedman did it many times.
    I don't see any indication of a big picture shift in team construction strategy. And the strategy is less about defense first, more about going after undervalued production. I think MLB still heavily undervalues defense, and Rays will continue to bargain hunt there. (Kiermaier is going to be solid gold for the Rays because he'll get paid a fraction of what he would get if he had the same production but did it through blasting homeruns.)

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    • Drew says:

      Agree. Loney has been rated as below-average defender each of the last two seasons. And if you don't believe in the advanced defensive stats, I think we can agree that he made too many mistakes and his range is decreasing after watching him play 1B last year,.
      Rivera cratered with the bat last season. I haven't watched him this spring but I guess they thought he couldn't turn it around. While he (unlike Loney) has strong defensive skills, you just can't carry a player with a sub-50 wRC+ and OPS under .500. He was easily the worst offensive player in the league last year.

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  4. Jim says:

    In hindsight, had they done this months ago, they might have been able to protect Goeddel and Ricard to the rule five draft. It looks like both of those guys will be starting outfielders for other major-league teams.

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  5. Joe says:

    Im gonna miss Loney. Despite his numbers I thought he was a good hitter. To top off the day they released Dan Johnson too.

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  6. Joe Dunn says:

    Good article Cork. Sure hope a 1B somewhere gets hurt---soon.
    And when I share your stories on Facebook the Bucs pic is showing up instead of Rays Index ????

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  7. Dave L says:

    Brutal truth

    Loneys defense has been highly overstated the past two years. He has always been very unatheletic but had a skill set and experience to play a very good defensive first base his first year here. that was two + years ago.

    After that first year with the Rays everyone was wringing their hands if we could only keep Loney! Of course we could. virtually every other MLB team wants RBI, power, run production out of the 1st base position. We were so offensively challenged that a .300+ hitter at any station was cherished.

    Thank god we only signed him to 2 more years. His reflexes have degraded severely the last 2 years. Despite TV talking head BA pronouncing him a plus defender his first year which he was his last 2 years he has been subpar.

    He will latch on this yearpossibly to some poor team which has injuries and needs him as a stopgap.

    I see Loney completely out of MLB within 12 to 24 months or less. A singles hitting unatheletic marginal 1st baseman who cannot hit singles is a dodo bird.

    Our only hope is Spring training injury and dire desperation at 1st by somebody else

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  8. Rob says:

    I think the Rays have seen what athleticism (through KK) can do for a team and that is the direction they are moving. Loney not only had very little pop, but he was slow and lumbering to boot. He wasn't likely to make it from 1st to 3rd on a single or home from second, slowing down eveyone behind him. Obviously, Rivera was rarely on base, so it didn't matter, but you can't have a guy in your lineup who is a sure out and doesn't put any pressure on the defense. I'm not saying slower than average guys don't have a place, but they better be hitting 4th and putting 30+ balls over the outfield wall and knocking in runs.

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