ST. PETERSBURG -- It looks like the Rays have made the move that makes the most sense, choosing to bring back first baseman James Loney.
Loney agreed on Friday to a three-year, $21 million deal with the Rays, an industry source confirmed to MLB.com. The deal, which was first reported by ESPN and Fox Sports, is pending Loney passing a physical and likely won't be finalized until next week.
The club did not confirm the deal.
The 29-year-old played in all but five games in his first season with the Rays this year, hitting .299 with 13 home runs, 75 RBIs and a .778 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
Bringing back Loney means the Rays will have the same infield they had in 2013, when the team had Gold Glove-caliber defense at each infield position.
Tampa Bay was a far superior defensive club this year compared to 2012, making 55 fewer errors to finish with the second-best fielding mark in the Major Leagues. The final tally had the Rays with the largest improvement in the field since the 1964 Washington Senators.
Loney's work at first base played a big role in that improvement.
"He's probably the best [first baseman] I've played with, as far as total package," said Evan Longoria this season. "[Carlos Pena and Casey Kotchman], both great defenders, and both, obviously, at times showed how good of hitters they could be. But I think [Loney's] calming influence, the way he plays the game, the way he cares about the game, just everything in general, to take nothing away from those other guys, but he is probably the best total package I've played with over there at first."
A first-round pick by the Dodgers in 2002, Loney signed a one-year deal with the Rays prior to last season. He split the 2012 season between the Red Sox and Dodgers after spending the first six years of his career in Los Angeles.
Loney is a lifetime .285 hitter and has a .761 career OPS over eight big league seasons.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.