Their band will be back together, a four-piece collection worthy of gold. None of the Tampa Bay Rays' infielders won an American League Gold Glove Award last season, but don't let semantics fool you. Third baseman Evan Longoria, shortstop Yunel Escobar, second baseman Ben Zobrist and first baseman James Loney -- the group's most deserving -- were finalists for the honor and major reasons why Tampa Bay owned one of baseball's most feared defenses. With the Rays announcing Loney's three-year, $21 million deal Friday -- the largest free-agent contract awarded by current ownership -- their safety net behind the mound will be secure for another year, with a veteran first baseman who's part offensive weapon, part Spider-Man at the bag. "He's a security blanket for the whole infield," Rays manager Joe Maddon said recently. "I know every one of them will tell you how happy they are to have him back. 'He's a man's man. You can talk to him and tell straight up, 'Nothing phony about this guy.' So for all those different reasons, it's a great get." There's no other way to slice this: Loney's return is a win for him and the Rays. Earlier this winter, as baseball's hot stove sizzled, many names were tossed throughout the Twittersphere as options if Loney were to chase larger free-agent dollars elsewhere: Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis, Justin Smoak. Loney, all along, was the Rays' best option. Tampa Bay took a flier on him with a one-year, $2 million deal before last season. The returns were plenty and pleasing. For the Rays: They received a complete, consistent talent. Loney hit a team-best .299 with 13 home runs and 75 RBI. He produced a .348 on-base percentage (his highest since 2009), a .430 slugging percentage (his highest since 2008) and a 2.7 wins-above-replacement figure, the best in his eight-year major-league career. Maddon, throughout the season, praised Loney's sure glove. For Loney: He enjoyed a career renaissance, one that resulted in a considerable bump in his bank account. Quiet and reserved, he blossomed within the clubhouse as the season progressed. He reportedly sought a three-year deal worth between $27 million and $30 million this offseason, but the $5 million increase in annual salary is a nice chunk of change for someone who never made more than the $6.375 million he received from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. Add Loney to the list of success stories produced by Maddon and Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations. The Miami Marlins traded Escobar for infielder Derek Dietrich before last season, and the Cuba native became another player that glowed with Tampa Bay's Midas touch. The infield's success, with those two examples as proof, is due to savvy scouting and sound development within an atmosphere that promotes a positive result.
Rays announce three-year, $21 million for 1B James Loney
Fox Sports Florida | Jan 4