Tuesday, November 3, 2009

And Your Newest Bucco...

Well, the Bucs did do something to help the MLB squad today, and it even cost Bob Nutting a buck, killing two fan beefs with one deal.

The Pirates acquired 2B/3B Akinori Iwamura from the Rays in exchange for RHP Jesse Chavez. He fills a serious need for the team, not only at second but in the two-hole of the batting order. Iwamura is steady both in the field and at the dish.

Tampa Bay had bullpen issues throughout the 2009 season and wanted a reliever in return. Dumping his $4.85M 2010 option (a fair deal, it seems; Fangraphs values his 2009 performance as worth $5.7M) on the Bucs also fills a Tampa quest to unload payroll, especially as Ben Zobrist (.297, 27 homers, 97 RBI) came on strong in his absence.

Aki did have a rough 2009. On May 22, Iwamura was injured while attempting to turn a double play against the Florida Marlins. He underwent surgery exactly one month later, and it was discovered that the ACL was partially torn and not entirely detached, so he got a scope instead of the knife.

He returned to the Rays' starting lineup on August 29th, and for the year hit .290 in 69 games, .310 in the 44 games after his surgery.

Iwamura, 30, a six-time Japanese League Gold Glove and five-time All-Star, has batted .281 with 103 RBIs and 192 runs in 344 career games with the Rays. He played the hot corner during his first year before converting to second base in 2008, thanks to Evan Longeria's emergence.

He's versatile to a fault. When he reported to the Rays in 2007, he brought five different gloves with him until he finally earned a position.

Aki has some interesting quirks. His glove is made out of crocodile skin, and his Nike bat also has quite a unique design, with a flattish barrel. It was odd enough that in 2007, Yankee skipper Joe Torre challenged it, and the umps confiscated the stick and shipped it to the Commissioner's office.

The MLB's mad scientists found the lumber to be OK for use, and it was returned to Iwamura with Joe Torre's signature. Nice touch, no?

Midway through the 2008 season, Iwamura got a mohawk, a style which soon spread to many of his teammates and Rays' manager Joe Maddon. As the team went on to become AL champs, many Tampa Bay also sported the "Rayhawk." Hey, gotta love the guy, right?

So the Pirates get a second baseman to replace Freddie Sanchez for a million beans less, and he's a bit of a character to boot.

They gave up a promising pitcher in Chavez, but his late-season flameout probably raised a red flag for the suits, and with Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan ahead of him, three was a crowd.

With Matt Capps' status up in the air, it was a risk for the back end of the bullpen, but it seems that Steve Jackson earned the team's confidence in the seventh inning, and the move opens space for both Jeff Karstens and Kevin Hart to work with the relief corps.

Tampa Bay does have an eye for young talent, and they obviously liked Chavez. But whenever you can move a non-closing reliever for an everyday player, it makes sense. Plus the Rays were under the gun; his option had to be exercised a day after the World Series, so they got a player and saved his $650K buyout by a hair.

The downside is that Iwamura is only signed for 2010, then he becomes a free agent. We don't know yet what he thinks about the deal since he's home in Japan, but he has the look of a rent-a-player right now.

Still, it certainly helps Pittsburgh competitively in 2010, and gives them a year's breathing room to groom a second baseman or try to sign him to a longer deal.

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