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Daily Dodger in review: James Loney played into another contract

November 9, 2011 |  8:17 am

Loney_640JAMES LONEY, 26, first base

Final 2011 stats: .288 batting average, 12 home runs, 65 runs batted in, .339 on-base percentage, .416 slugging percentage, 56 runs in 531 at-bats, five errors.

Contract status: Arbitration eligible.

The good: Hit .320 in the second half and finished on a tear, batting .388 the last six weeks. When he started hitting, and after Juan Rivera arrived, the Dodgers started winning.

Continued to be a smooth glove. Was Gold Glove caliber most nights.

The bad: After batting .211 in the second half of 2010, was hitting only .202 on May 2 before starting to discover his stroke. All that power everyone was so hopeful would develop on that 6-foot-2, 202-pound frame has never happened.

His 65 RBIs were his lowest in the last five years.

What’s next: One of the more interesting decisions the Dodgers have to make this off-season, although it’s difficult to imagine they actually go the Russell Martin route with Loney, non-tender him a contract and get nothing back in return.

The only way they let Loney go is if they actually sign Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. This is where I’m supposed to advise, do not hold your breath.

The take: Loney remains a lightning rod for sabermetric worshipers who despise having a corner infielder without relative power. That view gets additional relevancy because the Dodgers have no real power anywhere else in the infield.

Certainly, Loney’s power numbers are low for an average first baseman. Still, if he can hit anywhere near how he did in the second half, then that’s a valuable player to have in the lineup. And you can’t punish him further because the rest of the infield lacks anything approaching a slugger but make a decision on him individually.

Loney was paid $4.875 million last season and would probably get more than $6 million in arbitration this off-season. The Dodgers have to determine if he’s worth it.

If you assume they’re out of the Fielder-Pujols market, then it’s a bullet they have to bite. If they just let Loney go, they don’t really have much else there. They could try outfielder Jerry Sands, who’s still unproven at the plate, or worse, Rivera.

Loney looked like a guy who figured it out at the end of the season. He also had to see how Matt Kemp refocused in the off-season and came to camp in top shape and determined to reach his potential. The Dodgers have to hope so.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: James Loney. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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