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James Loney Sent To AAA

Steve Henson of the L.A. Times is reporting that James Loney will start the year in AAA Las Vegas, despite hitting .380 in AAA last year and .455 this Spring.

For now, let's put aside the question about whether or not James Loney deserves to start, whole 'nother can of worms there. In fact, for now let's even ignore the question of whether or not having James Loney on the bench makes the Dodgers a better team today (he does, and I don't think anyone would dispute that). The question I want to answer is having James Loney on the bench beneficial in the long term for the Dodgers?

According to an article in the 2007 Hardball Times, players drafted out of high school are far less likely to make huge jumps in power at Loney's age than players who came out of college. If that holds true with Loney, he appears to be on the Sean Casey career track: a first baseman who will hit for a nice average, but won't get you many home runs. This isn't really an insult, Sean Casey has had some very nice years in his career, and if James Loney makes the league minimum, that type of production is fine. What concerns me is if a player like Loney will be worth it when he reaches arbitration.

If Loney does nothing but sit on the bench for the next two years and make spot starts, he would only  play for one season before he reaches arbitration once we get there, Loney could pull down five or six million dollars, and do we really want to give that to a first baseman who might hit something like .310/.380/.475? Granted, we're giving the same amount to Nomar Garciaparra to put up similar numbers, but is that the best use of resources? I wouldn't be excited if Ned Colletti signed a free agent with those numbers.

By sending Loney to the minor leagues, it lets him play every day, and keeps his service time from running up. When the inevitable injury happens to Nomar, we can call Loney up, with nothing lost, and we probably get another full season of him at the league minimum. Heck, if Loney can play all the time in AAA, he might beat the average development curve and get some sock in his bat.

You also need to consider the players that will be lost if Loney stays on the roster. If Loney stays, then Larry Bigbie is probably off the team. While Larry Bigbie is a very replaceable player, Jason Repko is officially lost for the season, so having another middling bat that you can bury on the bench without guilt/whining about play time can't hurt.

This is all assuming that Loney wouldn't do much if he were on the active roster. If situations arose where Loney could get three or four starts a week, then he should be here. James Loney is one of the best hitters in the Dodgers organization, but if the Dodgers are going to stick with their vets, then Loney shouldn't be fiddling away his service time on the bench.