Rays trade 2B Iwamura to Pirates

BY foxsports • November 9, 2009

The budget-conscious Tampa Bay Rays saved some money and added some promising bullpen help Tuesday night when they traded infielder Akinori Iwamura to the Pittsburgh Pirates for right-hander Jesse Chavez. The Rays held a $4.85 million option on Iwamura for next season, but did not intend to pick it up because of the depth they have at second base. "We've got areas we really need to try to address," Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, specifically mentioning the bullpen and catcher as priorities this offseason. Iwamura hit .290 with one homer and 22 RBIs in 69 games during the final season of a $7.7 million, three-year contract he signed after playing for the Yakalt Swallows in Japan. He signed with the Rays as a free agent in December 2006. The 30-year-old missed 81 games this season after sustaining partial tears of the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee. Once the Rays determined they were not going to pick up his option for 2010, Friedman listened to offers for a trade. "Pittsburgh has been all over us for about a month," Friedman said. Chavez led Pittsburgh and all major league rookies with 73 appearances in 2009, going 1-4 with a 4.01 ERA in 67 1-3 innings. He was taken in the 42nd round in 2002 by Texas, and made his major league debut with the Pirates with 15 appearances in 2008. The Rays believe the 26-year-old has the potential to develop into an outstanding reliever. "This year was a good year," Friedman said. "We feel like he has the tools and ability to have an even better year." Iwamura was a five-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove third baseman in Japan. In three seasons in Tampa Bay, he batted .281 with 14 homers, 104 RBIs and 29 stolen bases while playing third base for one year and second for the past two. His unselfish transition from third to second base in 2008 - a move that opened a position for All-Star Evan Longoria - was one of the keys to Tampa Bay's transformation from a perennial last-place team into AL champions. "It is hard to put into words what Aki has meant to the organization," Friedman said. The Pirates badly needed a second baseman after trading NL All-Star Freddy Sanchez to Giants before the trading deadline. "He is a good athlete with above-average speed and is a tough out with a solid career on-base percentage," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "Additionally, he played Gold Glove-caliber third base for years in Japan and has made a smooth transition to second base." Pittsburgh takes on Iwamura's option, which the Pirates can pay because their already low payroll was trimmed when they dealt Sanchez, Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Nate McLouth, Njyer Morgan and Eric Hinske during the season. Coming off a major league-record 17th consecutive losing season in which they lost 99 games, the Pirates also needed to make a move to at least appease a dwindling fan base that was angered by yet another season of player departures. Former Dodgers utilityman Delwyn Young filled in at second base after Sanchez was traded, but struggled defensively and slumped badly at the plate late in the season. The Pirates' top second base prospect, Chase d'Arnaud, isn't close to being ready for the majors. ---