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Can a hot James Loney save his career with Dodgers?

August 28, 2011 |  7:17 am

James-loney_600

Are we headed to one fun off-season or what?

That’s not even taking into consideration the uncertain ownership and payroll situation. Who knows how or when that all unfolds? Oooh, the suspense.

And then there is the most curious case of all: What to do with James Loney?

Loney has one more year of arbitration left, and given that he’s making $4.785 million this season and spent most of it struggling, it was assumed in most quarters the Dodgers were going to go all Russell Martin on him and not tender him a contract.

Only right now, Loney is a man on fire. He’s not only finally playing like they hoped he would all season, he’s playing better than that.

In his last 18 games, Loney is batting .442 with four home runs, 10 RBI and 11 runs. His batting average, at .251 before his hot streak, is now up to .274.

Could two strong final months be enough to earn Loney another contract with the Dodgers?

Loney wants to return, but if he goes to arbitration, he’s in line for a raise that will probably take him to somewhere around $6 million.

That’s a lot of money –- too much money –- for a light-hitting first baseman. Sabermetric worshipers are appalled at the thought of Loney, long-term Dodgers first baseman. They look at his career .425 slugging percentage and almost weep.

It is not too much, however, for the current version of Loney. Whether you trust it not isn’t the question. If he finishes out the season just close to his current pace, and could continue it, he’s almost cheap.

Remember, right now the Dodgers have a hole in left and uncertainty at second, shortstop and, at the rate Juan Uribe is going, even third. Can they afford to just let Loney go, getting nothing in return?

No Loney means they have to find someone to play first. Jerry Sands? Is he ready? He’s hitting .276 at triple-A Albuquerque, though with 27 home runs and 79 RBI. Juan Rivera? He also would have to be re-signed (currently making $5.25 million) and is not really a first baseman.

And I’m already way out on this limb that says the bankrupt Dodgers are hardly going to get into the $100-million-plus area it’s going to take to sign Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols.

Which leaves them with one big, curious decision to make. After all this, if Loney just remains in the neighborhood of his current pace, for one year I still expect the Dodgers to bring him back. Such suspense.

MORE:

Loney, Kemp homer in Dodgers' win over the Rockies

Vin Scully gets the OK to return as Dodgers broadcaster

In 1966, the Beatles brought a whole new ballgame to Dodger Stadium

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Dodgers first baseman James Loney connects for a solo home run against the Colorado Rockies on Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

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