Contrary to how some fans feel, first-baseman James Loney should, indeed, stick around with the New York Mets for awhile.
Loney, a career .284 hitter, instantly filled what once was an automatic out in the Mets lineup. The veteran has six home runs, 26 runs batted in, and a serviceable .258 batting average, which was much higher until a recent skid.
Loney’s .214/.236/.252 slash over his past 30 games has many people ready to write off his career in the Big Apple. For the Mets, letting him go at the end of the year would not be the best idea.
Furthermore, to keep Lucas Duda next season would be a huge mistake.
Duda’s return at first would give the Mets yet another all or nothing bat in their already power heavy lineup. When you already have Jay Bruce, and presumably Curtis Granderson in your lineup as lefty sluggers, Duda is a waste of money.
Duda made $6.7 million this season, while the Rays paid Loney’s nine million dollar salary. When Loney hits free agency, he’ll be much more affordable for the cash-strapped Wilpons, who could use that $6.7 million off their payroll to retain stars Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker.
The Mets would be better off keeping James Loney, a guy who can get on base. They’ll never be able to fix their offensive epidemic if they don’t get more contact oriented hitters, like Loney, into the lineup.
Even if the Mets decide they want to start say, David Wright or Wilmer Flores at first next season, Loney would be valuable to the team. Loney would provide the Mets with a solid lefty off the bench, as well as a late game defensive replacement for Wilmer Flores, or David Wright, who both have their struggles in the field.
Loney could also provide a bridge to the Mets top-prospect, Dominic Smith. In Binghamton this season, Smith has 14 home runs, 89 runs batted in, and a line of .302/.368/.457. Smith projects to start next season in Las Vegas, but could very well make it to the show by the middle of the year.
The Mets would be very wise to plug first base with a cheap veteran, rather than a big money slugger who would be hard to send to the bench. Keeping Duda at first over Loney would undoubtedly block off Smith next season, who projects to be a more complete hitter than both big league first-basemen.
Off the field, Loney would continue to provide the Mets with a veteran to guide the clubhouse during a pennant race. The team has lost key veterans like Daniel Murphy, and Michael Cuddyer, so the Mets should look to gain new leaders.
Players like Conforto, Nimmo, d’Arnaud, and eventually Smith need leaders to look up to. Right now, especially without David Wright, the Mets clubhouse doesn’t have a lot of guys who have the capability to lead.
If Loney stays, he will provide the young kids with an example of how to play the game the right way.
In the end, if Lucas Duda is in the lineup at first for the Mets season, and James Loney is not on the roster, be prepared to have another long season filled with low scoring games.