Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Iwamura deal

Few trades or moves are announced during the World Series — Commissioner Bud frowns on it even as he consumes a good fourth of the time between the end of the regular season and the opening of spring training with repeated off days.

It's the hot stove league equivalent of Jorge Posada going to the mound eight times in an inning, four times in one at-bat. Wasting time for the sake of wasting time.

But stuff is happening behind the scenes. Teams are talking, deals are being struck. And one such deal — which has a quick timeline to be consummated — has leaked out: Tampa Bay sends infielder Akinori Iwamura (above) to Pittsburgh for reliever Jesse Chavez.

Three comments:

* A couple of offseasons ago, when the Twins made the Delmon Young trade, I said that if the Twins were going to trade for a Tampa Bay infielder I would rather it be Iwamura than Brendan Harris. And when word popped out Tuesday afternoon that the Rays were about to trade Iwamura, my initial thought was: To the Twins, I hope.

But on further reflection, I decided he wouldn't be an ideal fit.

His stat line, to be sure, plays better at the top of the order than does Orlando Cabrera's. And the Twins could, depending on who else they have on the roster, deploy him at either second or third.

But he's a left-handed hitter, and adding him would mean a lineup with lefty bats one through five — Denard Span, Iwamura, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel.

* This is essentially a salary dump. The Rays hold (the trade isn't official until Commissioner Bud says it is, and he's not OKing anything until after the Series) a $4.85 million option on Iwamura with a $650,000 buyout. And they have to exercise that option by the day after the World Series. They have cheaper talent on hand to plug in at second base — more on them later — and didn't want to commit the money to Iwamura without a trade in hand.

That the Rays are dumping salary one offseason after a World Series appearance says something about the economy in southwest Florida (which is bad) or the long-term viability of major league baseball in Tampa-St. Petersburg (which has been questioned before). Iwamura is at least an average second baseman; I would have thought he could bring more than a marginal reliever.

*Ben Zobrist, who hit 27 homers while splitting time at various positions, is getting the quick attention as Iwamura's successor at second base. But don't discount rookie Sean Rodriguez, part of the Rays haul from Anaheim for Scott Kazmir. If manager Joe Maddon is hell-bent on fixing Zobrist into one spot in the field, it might be right field.

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