There was a time when first baseman James Loney was considered to be a future cornerstone of the franchise. He, along with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and at the time Russell Martin, were seen as the core that would lead the Dodgers back to the glory days.
Kemp and Ethier have excelled, being rewarded with multiple All-Star appearances each, and long-term contract extensions that should keep them with the Dodgers for the bulk of their careers. Martin also had consecutive All-Star appearances in 2007 & 2008, but saw a steady decline in his numbers, forcing him and the Dodgers to part ways at the end of the 2010 season. The emergence of A.J. Ellis has off-set Martin’s departure, who is currently batting .179 for the New York Yankees.
Loney, who emerged early-on as the most polished hitter of the group, and was drafted highest, has failed to gain the accolades accorded his peers. Loney, who is a career .284 hitter, currently has career lows in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS. He is on pace to hit only four home runs, which would match his total from his rookie season in 2006 where he had only 100 AB, which quite frankly, is unacceptable for any player at the first base position.
The Dodgers front office has made no secret of their intentions to improve at both corner infield spots before the trade deadline, and even manager Don Mattingly appears to have given up on Loney. The Dodgers had a trade in place for aging Astros slugger Carlos Lee, which was vetoed by Carlos, who invoked his no-trade clause.
The Dodgers have gotten minimal production from both corner infield positions, but it should come as no surprise given that the starting third baseman, Juan Uribe is 33, and has been consistently hurt since joining the Dodgers, is not the most athletic guy, and owns a career .251 batting average. Meanwhile, Loney is a first-round draft pick who is 28, and should be in the prime of his career, much like Kemp and Ethier.
What is even more maddening having Loney out of the lineup is that James is a premiere defender, but as Mattingly has said, at some point, you have to see some results, and Loney, just isn’t getting it done.
Once Kemp and Ethier come back after the All-Star break, Loney should figure to lose even more playing time to Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu, who will be plugged in at 1B, as Tony Gwynn Jr. will have to lead off a lot with Dee Gordon sidelined for the next six weeks with a dislocated thumb.
A couple years ago when the Seattle Mariners were shopping Cliff Lee, the Dodgers had a deal for Lee involving Loney and Chad Billingsley, however, the price was too high, and it wasn’t likely that Lee would have signed long term with the Dodgers. However, with Loney struggling to produce at the plate, and the Dodgers in the hands of new ownership that isn’t afraid to spend money, this could be Loney’s last stand with the Dodgers, as seemingly anything would be an upgrade.
The trade deadline is three weeks away, and corner infielders have been a hot topic as both Lee and Kevin Youkilis have been traded. Other names on the trade market have been the Cubs’ Bryan LaHair, the Twins’ Justin Morneau, and the Padres’ Carlos Quentin. LaHair and Quentin would come at a higher price as the Dodgers could keep them under contract for longer, and Morneau has a higher salary. All three of those guys would fit in quite nicely in the 5-spot behind Kemp and Ethier.
General Manager Ned Colletti has become known for his shrewd mid-season moves, let’s see if he has any tricks up his sleeve.