PORT CHARLOTTE — James Loney figured he had been traded Wednesday when he was removed from the Tampa Bay Rays game against the visiting Boston Red Sox after only two at-bats.
But after meeting manager Kevin Cash and president of baseball operations Matt Silverman in Cash’s office, Loney was just confused.
“There’s not a trade right now,” Loney said.
Instead, Loney said he was told he will not make the Opening Day roster and his status is in limbo until possibly Saturday, when the Rays are expected to set their roster.
The Rays will not comment on Loney’s status, because it is possible he can make the team if either Logan Morrison or Steve Pearce — the players acquired during the offseason to replace him at first base — is injured during the final two days of games.
“I would think they’re probably trying to trade me,” Loney said. “We’ll see. We’ll see how that goes.”
While Loney’s immediate future is unclear, catcher Rene Rivera learned his fate earlier in the afternoon.
The Rays released Rivera, meaning they owe him just 45 days worth of pay on his one-year, $1.7 million contract.
Rivera’s release means Hank Conger has made the team as the second catcher.
“Rene was with us all (last) year, and to his credit he came in and did some good things in spring training,” Cash said. “We just didn’t see it as the best fit on the club going forward.”
Rivera, acquired in December 2014 in the three-team trade that included Wil Myers, started a career-high 87 games last season. While he did well controlling the running game, Rivera hit .178, the third-lowest among major leaguers with at least 250 plate appearances. His .213 on-base percentage and .489 on-base plus slugging percentage, were the lowest in baseball.
“My career has been everything but normal,” Rivera said on Twitter. “I am thankful that God has given me all this opportunities and I am excited for this new journey.”
Rivera worked in the offseason to improve his hitting, changing to more of a line-drive hitter. He showed improvement this spring with a .321 average in 28 at-bats. But, the Rays opted for the switch-hitting Conger, who was acquired Dec. 3 from the Astros for Cash considerations.
Conger struggled last season controlling the running game (he threw out only one of 43 base stealers), but he hit a career-high 11 home runs.
Much like Rivera, Loney became a casualty of the Rays emphasis on offense. His $8 million salary for 2016 didn’t help his situation, either.
The Rays tried to move him since the end of the last season, but Loney’s lack of power coupled with his contract made him unattractive to teams with needs at first base. They are willing to pay some of his salary if they can find a trade partner. Otherwise, they will eat his $8 million.
Loney was the best fielder of the three first baseman in camp. He was a Gold Glove finalist in 2013.
Yet, it was clear from the start there was not a competition to see which of the two would make the club.
“I guess it had to be somebody, I’m thinking,” Loney said. “It is what it is.”
For a team looking to improve its offense, the Rays are also saying good-bye to their best hitter over the last three seasons.
Since joining the Rays as a free agent in 2013, Loney hit .291, which is tied with Fred McGriff for the second-highest career average in team history. Only Carl Crawford at .296 has a higher average.
Loney hit a respectable .280 last season while making the first two trips to the disabled list of his career. But he managed only four home runs and his .357 slugging percentage and 11.28 at-bat to RBI ratio were last among first baseman who played in at least 100 games.
“I’m not disappointed with those things,” Loney said. “Obviously, I felt like I’d like to win with these guys, but at the end of the day it is a business. Those aren’t my decisions. I have nothing to do with that.”
Loney signed a one-year deal in 2013. He drew attention as a free agent the following offseason, especially from the Pirates, who could again be interested. The White Sox could be another trade partner. But Loney re-signed with the Rays for three-years, $21 million, with the largest payout coming this season.
“I think it’s going to work out for the best for me,” Loney said. “The team is great, obviously. I wish them the best. These guys were great. I loved my time here, love the organization after they gave me a chance after 2012. But at the end of the day, you want to play in the big leagues. You want to win, obviously. So we’ll see how it goes.”