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Loney excited to join Rays with one-year deal

ST. PETERSBURG -- Jame Loney is happy to be with the Rays.

"I always liked the way they played," said the Rays' newest acquisition during a Friday afternoon conference call. "They're always in the hunt, winning a lot of games every year, almost winning the World Series one year. So I like that aspect of it, and I also get the chance to play the majority of the time."

Playing for manager Joe Maddon also appealed to Loney, who noted he had other options before Tampa Bay signed the free-agent first baseman to a one-year deal. The Rays will pay Loney $2 million for the 2013 season, and he could make another $1 million in incentives.

"I've heard nothing but great things about Joe," said Loney, who likes the idea of being a part of a loose clubhouse in which he's allowed to be himself.

He believes that creating such an atmosphere is conducive to winning.

Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said that Loney had been on the club's radar "for years."

"We feel like there's a real significant upside from his surface line last year," Friedman said. "He's a tremendous defender and a guy who we feel like fits in really well with our club."

The Rays went to the Winter Meetings seeking to find a first baseman to replace Carlos Pena after Pena's disappointing 2012 season. Loney, 28, seems to fit the bill. Though he is not much of a power threat, he is a slick fielder and he makes good contact, as evidenced by his 51 strikeouts in 434 at-bats last season.

Loney, who is a career .282 hitter with 73 home runs and 459 RBIs, had an off year in 2012, when he hit .249 with six home runs and 41 RBIs for the Dodgers and Red Sox. He made $6.375 million last season.

When asked if he could identify things he did wrong that led to his 2012 dip, Loney said "there were some things."

"My timing was off a little bit, and that affected my swing," said Loney, pointing out that keeping a consistent "timing device" and being comfortable were all a part of the equation.

Joe Torre, who managed Loney on the Dodgers, recently praised his defense, but said Loney was still kind of a mystery on offense and had a lot of room for growth. Loney said he just wants to be a "good hitter overall," and he added that he wasn't worried about achieving certain numbers offensively.

"Having good at-bats is the main thing," Loney said.

Seeing Loney play for the Red Sox gave Maddon his best look at him.

"I was really impressed with his at-bats, the quality of the at-bat," Maddon said. "Saw pitches well, looked over the bat well, great defender. There's a real calmness about his approach to the game. A lot of things I liked about all of that."

Maddon is pleased to have Loney, and he is eager to pencil him in at first base.

"I know there's probably some chicken left on the bone there yet," Maddon said. "He's also at that optimal age, like 28 years of age, right in that sweet spot, where we like to get guys, and maybe possibly what you would consider have underachieved to a point. And all of a sudden, they come to us, and this is like the perfect time to get them."

Tampa Bay Rays, James Loney