The Pirates have a boatload of questions going into 2010 - Jeff Clement, a retooled bullpen, shortstop, Lastings Milledge/Garrett Jones as difference makers - but so far, second baseman Akinori Iwamura has evaded the microscope.
His pedigree is solid. Iwamura, a convert from the hot corner, has become a dependable middle infielder and sports a career .281 batting average and .354 OBP, certainly bona-fides strong enough to replace a banged-up Freddy Sanchez at second (.299/.334).
But as Jen Langosch of MLB.com reports, he is less than a year removed from ACL surgery, and plans to wear a brace during the season.
Is that reason for concern? Well, yes and no. Certainly wearing a brace doesn't mean that he's not healing. From the reports we've seen, he's participating in all the drills at Bradenton and showing no ill effects from his knifework.
But the Pirates have put all their eggs in his basket. There's already been talk about punching up the Bucco attack at some point by leading off with Iwamura, batting Andy LaRoche behind him (he did hit .289 from that spot in 2009, although his OBP was a pretty measly .319) and dropping Andrew McCutchen to third.
Additionally, he's a linchpin for the infield. Iwamura is the only infield guy that doesn't have a Plan B; his backups are Bobby Crosby and Ramon Vazquez. Even LaRoche has the shadow of Pedro Alvarez looming large over him.
So he's quietly become an integral part of the Pirates moving forward in 2010. And there's one question concerning Iwamura; can the Pirates get 145-150 games out of his knee?
If the answer is positive, the Pirates are a better team, and may ink him for another season or two while their young infield prospects dry off behind the ears. If not...well, remember the black hole that second base became after Steady Freddy left, both in the field and the lineup card?