Seeking to fill a hole in their infield, the Pirates traded reliever Jesse Chavez to the Tampa Bay Rays for second baseman Akinori Iwamura.
“He is a good athlete with above-average speed and is a tough out with a solid career on-base percentage,” GM Neal Huntington said. “Additionally, he played Gold Glove caliber third base for years in Japan and has made a smooth transition to second base. We are very pleased to add a player of his caliber to our lineup and to our organization.”
Iwamura, 30, played nine seasons in the Japanese Central League before signing with the Rays in November 2006. He batted .281 over three seasons with Tampa Bay.
The Pirates hope that, for one season at least, Iwamura will shore up a weak spot in their infield. Delwyn Young became the full-time second baseman after Freddy Sanchez was traded in July, but Young struggled defensively. Chase d’Arnaud likely is the Pirates’ best prospect at second, but he is still two or three years away from reaching the majors.
Iwamura could become a free agent after the 2010 season unless the Pirates sign him to an extension.
A six-time Golden Glove winner in Japan, Iwamura has a .987 fielding percentage in 220 games at second base for the Rays.
The Pirates exercised Iwamura’s $4.85 million option for 2010. He will be the team’s highest-paid player next season.
The Rays had until the day after the World Series to either pick up Iwamura’s option — which they did not want to do, as they are going with younger players at second next season — or pay him a $550,000 buyout and let him walk as a free agent.
Iwamura was a third baseman in Japan and played that position in 2007 with the Rays. In 2008, after third baseman Evan Longoria was called up, Iwamura moved to second base.
Last May, he injured his ACL while trying to turn a double play and had arthroscopic surgery. He made a quick recovery and was back in the lineup by the end of August.
Chavez, 26, was the final player added to the Pirates’ roster last season at the end of spring training. He pitched in 73 games and went 1-4 with a 4.01 ERA.
“I’m really surprised (by the trade), especially considering I’ve barely made a dent in the big leagues,” Chavez said. “It’s going to be different, but I think it will be fun.”
Chavez made $401,500 this year. The Rays will have him under contract control through the 2014 season.