It was the kind of news that wasn’t unexpected.
James Loney came to spring training knowing he was in a serious battle to be the Rays first baseman. But that wasn’t the only thing hanging over his head; just making the team was at stake as well. Tampa Bay had signed or traded for three players who could play his position or be the designated hitter, Steve Pearce, Logan Morrison and Corey Dickerson meaning there were four bodies for two spots.
The 31-year old former first round draft pick of the Dodgers was informed today he will not be part of the opening day roster, however, it is not known if he will be traded or released. He was rumored to have been shopped around all spring by general manager Matt Silverman without much interest so it is likely he will be free to look for a new home.
Loney had a good run with the Rays after falling out of favor in Los Angeles and effectively being dumped to the Red Sox in 2012 in the massive trade that sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto to the Dodgers.
He became a free agent after the season and signed with Tampa Bay. He had three productive years averaging a .291 average with 176 RBI and gave the Rays Gold Glove caliber defense. If there was a knock on him it was the lack of power as he belted just 26 homers in 417 games, a relatively small number for a corner infield position.
The Rays appear to be putting a premium on offense and the trio of Pearce, Morrison and Dickerson seem to fill the bill in that department. Dickerson, who has launched some prodigious home runs this spring, is believed to be penciled in as the full-time DH.
Loney wasn’t the only one given his walking papers. Catcher Rene Rivera, who had a rather forgettable 2015 season, was cut. The 32-year old got off to a miserable start and it did not get any better as he finished the season batting a meager .178 with five long balls and 26 ribbies. Despite working hard trying to refine his swing and strike zone awareness, the Rays decided to part ways with him even after a respectable spring where he hit .321, but showed little else.
Again, offense seems to be the key to this move as Curt Casali and Hank Conger provide the potential to send some balls in the seats although neither can match Rivera’s defense. Casali , 27, had ten homers in just 101 at-bats a year ago although he hit just .238. Conger, the 28-year old former Astros backstop, had 11 over 73 games in his first year in Houston after five previous seasons with the Angels.
It was a busy day in Port Charlotte as third baseman Richie Shaffer and RHP Matt Andriese were optioned to Triple-A Durham, while RHP David Carpenter and knuckleball hopeful Dan Johnson were released.
Johnson, 36, has his place in Rays’ history having hit two critical home runs down the stretch in the team’s pair of playoff runs. After a scattered big league career, he was trying to make a comeback as a pitcher who threw a knuckleball. Unless someone gives him a second shot on the mound, Johnson’s career could be at an end.
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