The Tampa Bay Rays’ gold glove-nominated infield will remain intact as multiple media outlets reported Friday that first baseman James Loney agreed to a three-year, $21 million contract.
The team would not confirm the deal that is pending a physical and reportedly included a $5 million signing bonus, but is expected to be completed next week.
Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations, left the winter meetings Thursday confident he was close to filling his biggest offseason need — a first baseman.
Loney, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2013 with the Rays, was reportedly seeking a three-year deal in the $9 to $10 million a year range. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers also were interested in signing Loney.
That price tag seemed a bit high for a corner infielder who has never hit more than 15 home runs in a season. Loney hit only six in 2012 in a season that saw him traded in August from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Boston Red Sox.
Loney, 29, signed a free agent contract with the Rays last December for a base salary of $2 million plus another $1 million in incentives. He hit .299 with 13 home runs, 75 RBIs and a .348 on-base percentage while helping the Rays win the second American League wild-card spot.
Considered unproductive for most of his career, Loney thrived in the Rays’ relaxed atmosphere. Batting fifth for much of the season, he provided protection for Evan Longoria and then Wil Myers.
But Loney’s biggest contribution was on defense — the main reason the Rays signed him so early in the 2012-2013 offseason.
Loney anchored an infield of second baseman Ben Zobrist, shortstop Yunel Escobar and Longoria at third base. All four were nominated for Rawlings Gold Gloves, though none won the award.
Still, the Rays’ infield defense was a major reason why the team committed 55 fewer errors than in 2012. They committed a major league-low 36 errors, three shy of the record set by the 1999 New York Mets.
Rays infielder Tim Beckham tore his right ACL this month while doing agility drills. Beckham, who reached the majors in September and appeared in five games with three hits in seven at-bats, will have surgery and though he said he expects to play in 2014, it likely wouldn’t be until the second half of the season. ... The Rays completed the trade with Arizona for reliever Heath Bell by sending minor-league outfielder Todd Glaesmann to the Diamondbacks as the player to be named later. Glaesmann was the Rays’ 2012 minor-league player of the year after batting .285 with 21 home runs and 75 RBIs while splitting time between Class A teams in Bowling Green and Charlotte. A third-round pick in the 2009 draft, Glaesmann hit .240 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs in 132 games last season at Double-A Montgomery.