It is now official: Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura has been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In return, we received relief pitcher Jesse Chavez.
Iwamura had been with the Rays since 2007, their last year as the Devil Rays (and as a bad team). He scored the winning run in his first home game and played very good defense at both third base and second base. He also became enormously popular with Rays fans for his enthusiasm, including helping to pioneer the “Rayhawk” of 2008.
Of course, Iwamura also made the final defensive play that sent the Rays to their first World Series. Hopefully he kept that ball in good shape.
He did have his negatives (too many strikeouts, hit .217 with runners in scoring position), but added to all the other positives was an ability to hit timely home runs. His tworun shot off Clay Buchholz in April 2008 turned a 10 deficit into a 21 win. He also led the Rays to victory in the Division Series against the White Sox, hitting a home run late in game two.
Iwamura could run well, play the field, even hit for power occasionally. But with so much money (nearly $5 million) on the table to possibly become a glorified bench player, this trade was justified. Ben Zobrist stole his job and had a massive breakout season, and Sean Rodriguez (the young guy from the Scott Kazmir trade) and right fielder Matt Joyce will also be competing for starting jobs. That effectively squeezed Iwamura out of the Rays’ plans.
Meanwhile, Chavez can give the Rays some necessary bullpen help. The 26yearold righthander appeared in 73 games and gave the dismal 2009 Pirates some good work. His 14 record doesn’t match up with his decent 4.01 ERA or his mere 22 walks allowed in 67.1 innings. He looks like a oneinning Lance Cormier (who I hope stays, by the way). With the declining Chad Bradford leaving and possibly retiring, Chavez could be the right man to take his spot.
The man known as “Aki” and celebrated by almost every Rays fan on Earth is now in Pittsburgh, also known as Purgatory. In my blog archives is my favorite Iwamura story, and a big reason this team’s culture will never be the same. It was 2008 Rays FanFest and I showed him his Japan rookie card from 1997. He looked at the guy next to him and said “Rookie! Rookie! Twelve years ago! Twelve years ago!” Then he eagerly signed the card.
Make Pittsburgh fun, Iwamurasan.