ST. PETERSBURG -- James Loney enjoyed his season with the Rays, and the Rays liked what the veteran first baseman brought to the team. Those mutual good vibes led to a three-year, $21 million deal to keep the 29-year-old in the Rays' infield.
Tampa Bay officially announced the deal Friday afternoon.
"I think I just kind of realized where I'd like to be," said Loney, who had interest from several clubs. "... I knew the team was going to be competitive. So when you have those kind of factors it definitely makes it a lot easier."
Loney noted that the offers from other teams were comparable to what the Rays were offering, but he wanted to be happy and returning to the Rays was appealing.
Loney's deal is the largest free-agent contract awarded by the Rays under the current ownership led by principal owner Stuart Sternberg. Loney will also make a donation to the Rays Baseball Foundation.
Bringing Loney back "was something that was a priority for us coming into the winter," said Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations. "While technically this was a free-agent signing, I think of it more as extension. We had him last year, got to know him. Great competitor, great defender, basically did everything that we thought he would do against right-handed pitching. And really elevated his game against left-handed pitching.
"He's a tremendous defender and a guy that really fits us well in terms of our roster construction and how we like to try to do things. So we're extremely happy to have him back and we feel like he's going to be a big part of us winning games for at least the next three years."
Loney played in all but four games in 2013, his first season with the Rays, hitting .299 with 13 home runs, 75 RBIs and a .778 OPS.
Having Loney back means the Rays will have the same infield they had in 2013, when Gold Glove-caliber players stood at each position.
"Going back to the same infield, it's going to be fun," Loney said. "Those guys are great. They take pride in their defense and all the work that they do."
Loney was one of three finalists for the American League Rawlings Gold Glove Award at first base, along with winner Eric Hosmer of the Royals and Chris Davis of the Orioles.
Tampa Bay was a far superior defensive club in 2013 compared to the '12 model, making 55 fewer errors to finish with the second-best fielding percentage in the Major Leagues. The final tally showed the Rays having 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," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said last 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."
Loney's 1,277 2/3 innings were the most by a Rays first baseman in franchise history. His .299 batting average ranked 13th in the AL -- second among AL first basemen behind Hosmer (.302) -- and was his highest mark since 2007, when he hit .331.
A first-round pick by the Dodgers in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Loney signed a one-year deal with the Rays prior to last season. He had split the 2012 season between the Red Sox and Dodgers after spending the first six years of his career in Los Angeles.
Overall, Loney is a .285 hitter and has a .761 OPS over eight big league seasons.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.