Over the weekend the Tampa Bay Rays provided a little belated background for anyone who thought the Angels’ side of the David Freese trade was a little generous: They signed James Loney—that James Loney, the one who came up as a top prospect with Joe Thurston—to a three year, $21 million contract.
You remember the Rays: They’re the ones who are supposed to find league-average first basemen with some downside risk for free, maybe one or two of them a year. This is—somehow—the largest free-agent contract the team has written up since current ownership took over.
And $21 million for Loney isn’t really a bad contract, in terms of dollars for wins, but it’s a weird one—it’s a contract I usually only see in Baseball Mogul. It’s locking up average at a slight discount in exchange for some cost certainty. (It's Jake Westbrook, admittedly.)
And if the Rays, internet darlings though they may be, felt it necessary to sign themselves up in advance for three more years of .285/.340/.421—well, maybe average and boring is the new market inefficiency.
Peter Bourjos is exciting; he’s younger, and his upside is higher, and he’s going to appear on highlight reels so often that it will seem like he’s playing a position Jon Jay doesn’t know exists. I think the Cardinals’ end of the deal is unambiguously better than the Angels’ side, and that’s without bringing Randal Grichuk into the proceedings.
But maybe this is the rest of baseball looking covetously at the Cardinals’ success and scraping together a lesson. I was busy drawing flip-books of Peter Bourjos galloping o'er the plains when it happened, so this escaped me, but David Freese and his ankles somehow ended up in a trade where he wasn't the injury-prone one.
One of the least exciting things John Mozeliak has put together since taking over in 2007 has been cost certainty. His league average doesn’t even cost $7 million a year, most of the time—but having secured it, he’s able to take the kind of risks that allow a team to start Peter Bourjos without thinking even once about what they’ll do the next time his hip acts up.