Adiosu Aki, Settai Chavez
You just knew that the Rays had put the discussion and the issue of whether to retain Akinora Iwamura or test the trade waters for him a high priority this World Series week. Mostly because they had to make a decision immediately after the series on if they were going to pay him a $550,000 contract buyout, or accept the 1-year $4.85 million dollar contract for the 2010 season.
And we all knew that the Rays could always trade Iwamura, but everyone in the league knew they would have to make a decision on him, and might try and low sell the Rays on a prospect to get some veteran leadership on their team. And in the end, Iwamura went to a team that did not even appear on anyone’s radar as a potential trade partner.
Before last night, who besides the Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman would have believed that the Pittsburgh Pirates had anything more than a passing interest on the infielder. It seemed some what out of character that a team that has been sold on youth and keeping a lower payroll would bring on a player that instantly became their highest paid player in one firm stroke.
But it is not as if Iwamura was a salary dump, or even a bad contract move. His one year deal actually might make a bit of sense for the Pirates considering he has shown he is a team first player who can also play both third base and second base with exceptional defensive skills. But it might be his effectiveness at the plate that intrigued the Pirates the most.
They had been seeking a lead-off bat that could produce both with infield hits and on the base paths. Iwamura fits that bill and more. In his three season with the Rays he was used as a lead-off man and also a lower in the line-up hitter and excelled in both spots with timely hits and aggressive actions on the bases.
Also a glowing positive is the fact that in his first two season in the Major League, Iwamura had only hit into 4 double plays in 1,216 at bats for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2007-2007. He is a career .281 hitter who is known to go on hitting streaks and has a medium dose of power in his bat. But what might be exciting to fans and players alike is his imitation alligator skin glove that he had made when he signed with the Rays back in 2007.
Iwamura is quiet on the field, but was a constant clubhouse figure during the celebration and during fan signings during his season with the Rays. Some people think that the Rays might have gotten the short end of the deal with only acquiring reliever Jesse Chavez in the deal. But all indication are from the Rays scouting department that Chavez is a young pitcher who can bring the ball to the plate and should be firmly in the mix to make the team in the 2010 Spring Training.
Chavez almost set the Pirate rookie record for innings pitched in 2009, but he fell 12 inning short of the record set by teammate Matt Capps in 2006. Chavez did finished the year with a total of 67.1 innings and led all National League pitchers in innings pitched last season. And his record in 2009 might be a bit misleading at 1-4 with a 4.01 ERA.
But he did lead the Pirates Bullpen in total appearances last season (73). And he picked up his first Major League win in a walk-off victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on September 6,2009. And what might have appealed to the Rays is the fact he was scored upon once in his last nine appearances, and posted a 3.19 ERA early in the season before the All Star break.
So the Rays are getting a guy who has one season of Major League experience, and is under team control until 2014. Which in the long run is the Rays formula to success recently. The addition of Chavez fills a hole the Rays will have in their Bullpen coming into Spring Training, and also gives them a viable option that could make the team out of Spring Training at a reasonable salary for the team.
And after the Pirates traded John Garbow to the Chicago Cubs, the team depended on Chavez more and more during the season to get critical outs in the game. But one disadvantage Chavez has coming to the Rays might be that the Pirates did not play the match-up game the way the Rays have done for most of 2009. Instead Pirates Manager John Russell would put Chavez in the game no matter if right or left-handers were coming to the plate.
Russell personally felt that the match-up system would tax his Bullpen and his philosophy was not to play into situational pitching, but to make his guys get batters out on both sides of the plate nightly. And Chavez held both sides of the plate under .300, with a .228 average against lefties. But there might be a few things that ring alarm bells in the Rays head also about the powerful rightie.
During 2009, opponents hit Chavez to a 9.0 ERA on turf, which he will play over 81 game on both at the Trop. and on the road for the Rays. And he has a better ERA away from home than on the road, which is not usually the case in a young pitcher. Chavez has a 3.45 ERA away from PNC Park, while he held a 4.50 ERA at home. But he is a young pitcher, and future adjustments and a comfort level both with the Rays and on the Field Turf might change those stats fast for Chavez.
I honestly think this trade is more of a “win-win” for both teams. Some have brought up the issue of the Rays having a limited sense of leverage in this deal, but in reality the Pirates gave up a guy with loads of potential and a gift of giving up the long ball in return for a veteran they control and could use as a nice trade tool at the Trading Deadline in 2010.
But in the end, I will miss seeing Iwamura manning the second base hole during Rays games, but the reality has shown again for the Rays. Even in the time since we have let our payroll go a big north the reality was still there that members of this team would out-grown the Rays financial breaking points.
First Scott Kazmir was jettisoned before the end of 2009 to free up capital to try and keep Carl Crawford in the fold. Then both Crawford and Iwamura both went to the team and let them know that financial options could be discussed with each of them. But in the end, it is a business, and with the financial background of the Rays front office, we will see more and more of these emotion less transactions in the coming years. Even if it is business and not personal, seeing Iwamura go now is sad, but a product of the system that the Rays employ to keep their team fiscally fit and ready for 2010.
( We wish you prosperity and health in Pittsburgh in 2010. We will miss your smile!)