By John Perrotto
Photo: David Hague – Inside Pittsburgh Sports.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington summed up the trade pretty well when he was asked why he dealt reliever Jesse Chavez to the Tampa Bay Rays for second baseman Aki Iwamura on Tuesday.
“It’s a lot easier to replace 60 innings of relief than 600 plate appearances,” Huntington said.
That is very true.
Chavez had a decent rookie season out of the bullpen this year but certainly nothing that would suggest he should amount to anything more than a seventh-inning pitcher. He gave up 69 hits in 67 1/3 innings and only struck out 47. At 26, there probably isn’t a whole lot of upside for Chavez.
Iwamura, on the other hand, represents an upgrade over what the Pirates have at second base after trading Freddy Sanchez to San Francisco on July 30, which is nothing.
They crossed their fingers and hoped Delwyn Young could at least be passable defensively while adding a bat to the lineup at second base. Instead, the 27-year-old was exposed as nothing more than a part-timer when he played every day as he hit .219 with a .273 on base percentage and a .339 slugging percentage in 199 plate appearances following the Sanchez trade.
Iwamura amassed 1,526 plate appearances in three seasons with the Rays after playing nine professional seasons in his native Japan and hit .281/.354/.393. While that doesn’t make the 30-year-old an All-Star performer, he is slightly above average for the position and being a left-handed hitter playing his home games at PNC Park should provide a small boost to his numbers.
The Pirates have become almost obsessive about adding good defensive players since Huntington took over as general manager late in the 2007 season. Of course, good defensive players usually cost less than good offensive players and everyone knows the Pirates prefer not to spend money.
In this case, though, the Pirates will pay Iwamura $4.85 million next season and he will be eligible for arbitration in 2011 and 2012, meaning there is almost no way he stays in Pittsburgh beyond 2010.
Rays manager Joe Maddon insisted that Iwamura should have won a Gold Glove in 2008 after he shifted to second base from third base in the major leagues. However, the advanced fielding metrics do not support that claim.
According to FanGraphs.com’s Ultimate Zone Rating, Iwamura ranked 11th among major-league second baseman in 2008 and 16th in 2009 while Bill James Online’s Plus/Minus system had him 19th in 2008 and 15th in 2009. Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average statistic rated Iwamura below average in both seasons.
On the whole, it is hard to get excited about Iwamura making a very big impact. At best, Iwamura will give the Pirates a decent hitter with some bat-handling skills and on base percentage to bat behind leadoff man Andrew McCutchen until they continue their annual late-July tradition by flipping him to a contender for prospects at the non-waiver deadline.