If you follow baseball, you may have heard something about a Dodgers-Red Sox trade with massive implications for both teams. It happened, although I'm not sure that everyone believes it yet. The short version is that the Red Sox sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto (and all the contract heft that comes along with it) for James Loney, Allen Webster, Ivan DeJesus, and two players to be named later (Rubby De La Rosa and Jerry Sands).
For the Sox, this deal is all about the future, and the financial flexibility that the future will bring. But in the present, the Sox have to deal with a major hole in their infield and lineup: the one left by Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez is in the midst of a down season, but is still one of the game's feared hitters at first base. Though a wOBA of .346 for 2012 is beyond disconcerting, he had been one of the few offensive presences in an up-and-down Boston lineup. And, unfortunately for the Sox, he will now be replaced by new acquisition, James Loney.
Red Sox fans probably don't expect Loney to mimic Gonzalez's production. If they do, they're a bit crazy. But do you know who's production I *would* expect Loney to mimic? Former Red Sox 1B Casey Kotchman.
Loney is eminently comparable to Kotchman, who currently toils as the first baseman for the
awful woeful how-are-they-not-in-last-place Cleveland Indians. Kotchman joined the Red Sox in 2009, as the return in a deadline deal sending away Adam LaRoche.*
(*) On an aside, whoa. This just reminded me that Adam LaRoche used to play for the Red Sox. Mind blown.
To talk about Kotch for a moment, he is a player who has been able to put together two good seasons (2007 and 2011), which have been surrounded by remarkable futility. Part of that futility was less than a hundred plate appearances with the Sox in 2009. During this time, Kotchman hit at a level commensurate to 52% below league average, with a wOBA of .264. Fortunately, he was good enough with the glove (according to UZR) to kind-of offset how terrible he was as a hitter, allowing him to be worth a net fWAR of 0.0 -- exactly replacement-level.
James Loney is a player much like Kotchman, but slightly better as a hitter. Loney's wRC+ over his major league career is 103, which shows him to be almost exactly league-average as a hitter. The problem is, that first basemen aren't supposed to be league-average hitters, they're supposed to be quite a bit better than that. Loney's 70 wRC+ for 2012 would be tied for second-worst among qualified hitters at first base, if Loney had enough PA to qualify for the batting title this season.
While this season may be one of his worst, 2011 proves that Loney has the ability to at least be capable enough to man first without embarassing himself. He just hasn't done that this season. And while Loney doesn't provide the same value with the glove that Kotchman (or Adrian Gonzalez, for that matter) does, he's a solid, above-average fielder at his position. Over 2011 and 2012, he's been worth almost a full win at the bag, which is something, at least. I have to think he's unlikely to be the unmitigated disaster that Kotchman (or another comparable, Doug Mientkeiwicz) was in Fenway, but he probably won't make anyone forget Adrian.
Honestly, if the Sox were getting Jerry Sands right away (instead of waiting to receive him as a player to be named later), I wouldn't put Loney at first for the big club for a day. Sure, Sands is a work in progress, but he has the youth and potential to provide a substantively above-average bat at the corner, something that Loney appears unlikely to offer. We all know PCL numbers should be taken with a grain of salt (heck, look at Loney's 2006 PCL stats some time), but Sands has posted a wOBA of .373 or higher at every stop in the minors. The ML success hasn't come along yet, but it really hasn't come for Loney either, and Sands is younger with more potential to develop.
Given Loney's obvious weaknesses (which include hitting, hitting for power, and generally hitting like a first baseman should), the Red Sox probably won't tie themselves to him for longer than September. With Loney a free agent in the offseason anyway, the Sox will turn to free agency options (Nick Swisher?
Kevin Youkilis? Carlos Lee? Mike Napoli?), internal position swaps (Jarrod Saltalamacchia? Ryan Lavarnway?), or affordable diminished-value trade targets (Lucas Duda? Justin Smoak? Logan Morrison?).
While James Loney doesn't look to be anything more than slightly above-replacement-level for the Sox, it could be worse. He could be the 2009 or 2012 version of Casey Kotchman. And he could be sticking around longer than a month.
Makes you think the Sox kinda wish they had Anthony Rizzo back right about now, no?