The Pittsburgh Pirates are believed to be eyeing free agent James Loney as their top choice to fill first base in 2014, reports Jayson Stark of ESPN. The club has also looked into the availability of Mitch Moreland and Adam Lind.
Gaby Sanchez and Garrett Jones split time at first base at the beginning of 2013 in Pittsburgh the club acquired Justin Morneau from the Twins mid-season. Jones is no longer with the Pirates, having been designated for assignment two weeks ago. Sanchez hit .254/.361/.402 over 136 games and could once again take over as starter if no other moves are made.
For now, however, the Pirates are fixated on Loney, who has long been known for having a sterling glove at first base. His defensive reputation has helped hide a mediocre bat, however. Over an eight-year career, he has a .285/.340/.421 batting line. That appeared to be trending downward and, in 2012, he posted just a 630 OPS in a season split between the Dodgers and Red Sox. He took a one year deal worth $2 million to join the Rays, and had a resurgence at the plate. Over 158 games in 2013, he hit .299 with a 778 OPS, his best mark since an outstanding 96-game stint in 2007.
Loney could likely be had for a very reasonable sum considering he is still a defense-first first baseman, despite his 2013 campaign. The Pirates do not have to be exorbitantly careful with their payroll, but are unlikely to give out any big contracts this offseason as most of their playoff team returns and several top prospects wait on the horizon. The team currently owes about $32 million to players under contract in 2014 with around $17 million more likely to be paid to players eligible for arbitration. That means the Pirates' current opening day payroll projects to be around $55 million, or over $10 million less than it was in 2013. With new national TV deals bringing in more money for teams, Pittsburgh could potentially escalate that even further.
Lind and Moreland may be less likely options depending on what the Blue Jays and Rangers, respectively, are asking for them. Several teams have inquired about Moreland, but for now Texas appears intent on keeping him. He posted a 736 OPS in 2013 with a career-high 23 home runs. Lind, meanwhile is coming off his best season since an outstanding 2009 campaign. Over 143 games last year, he hit .288/.357/.497 with 23 homers. Lind has had his ups and downs the past few years, but has always shown good power. He is still owed $8.5 million, and also has options for 2015 and 2016.
The Pirates have most of their roster already set for the 2014 season, but a new first baseman is among the key concerns that they do have. Loney, Lind and Moreland are not without their faults, but could improve the team as they hope to compete for a playoff spot once again.