Loney made $3.1 million in 2010, his first year of arbitration eligibility. He has four years, 12 days of MLB service time. At first base, it's tough to find comps. In many cases, the best hitters at the position are among the best players in the game, and frankly have a production level that is higher than that of Loney.
Some guys who may have been comps through three seasons go in a different direction in year four. Carlos Pena hit 46 home runs off the scrap heap for Tampa Bay in 2007, his fourth season, and parlayed that into a three-year deal. Kevin Youkilis had a lower OPS+ through three years of service time (109) than did Loney (112), but in 2008 Youkilis hit .312/.390/.569 and he finished third in AL MVP voting. On the other end of the spectrum, Mike Jacobs and Loney were similar through three years, but he hit .228/.297/.401 in 2009 and was forced to sign a minor-league deal last year.
I found a few first basemen who were reasonably similar to Loney through four years. Here are their career numbers through four years:
|Adam LaRoche||2004-07||4.000||2047||135||86||258||301||.273/.339/.490||112||5.3||$5 million
|Lyle Overbay||2001-06||4.026||2235||153||61||268||280||.293/.372/.467||116||8.2||$4.2 million*
|Casey Kotchman||2004-09||4.144||1871||101||40||195||233||.269/.337/.406||95||5.3||$3.5175 million
*Overbay technically only made $400,000 in the first year of a four-year, $24 million deal, but he did get a $3.8 million signing bonus so I'm counting that as part of his salary in 2007.
Kotchman is technically on a different service level, since he was a Super Two, but given these disparate salaries, I want to look at Loney's comparable players in a different way. I will compare each player's fourth season and look at their percentage salary increase from one year to the next.
This doesn't exactly give us a clear picture of what to expect for Loney. Both LaRoche and Overbay got big increases, but they also had much better fourth seasons that did Loney. Loney's 2010 was much more in line with Kotchman's 2009. Kotchman only got a 21.9% raise from 2009 to 2010, but he was also coming off a season of only 431 PA. Let's give Loney a bigger raise than Kotchman, but not as hefty a raise as LaRoche or Overbay.
A 40% raise would be $4.34 million. Rounding, $4.3 million is my new guess for James Loney's salary in 2011.