Pirates to acquire Rays' Iwamura in exchange for reliever

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iwamura2.jpgRays second baseman Akinori Iwamura is headed to Pittsburgh, says the St. Petersburg Times and several other sources.
According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, right-hander Jesse Chavez will be the return when the deal is announced, something that might not happen until after the World Series concludes. The Rays are expected to surrender a second player along with Iwamura.
It’s a rather surprising destination, given that Iwamura is due $4.85 million next season and is only under control for 2010. The soon-to-be 31-year-old will become the Pirates’ highest-paid player.
Iwamura is worth the cash. In three years since arriving in the U.S., he’s hit .281/.354/.393 in 1349 at-bats. A knee injury limited him to 69 games in 2009, but he seemed to have his range back after returning in September. While Iwamura was initially a third baseman for Tampa Bay, he’s proven to be well above average at second base. He should be an upgrade over what Freddy Sanchez gave them defensively and approximately his equal offensively.
Still, one wonders if this is really the right direction for the Pirates. Second base tends to be a very easy position to fill in the offseason. Orlando Hudson, easily the top dog at the position, had to settle for an incentive-laden one-year deal last winter. He was guaranteed $3.4 million, with the chance to earn up to $8 million. Felipe Lopez ended up with a one-year, $3.5 million contract. Juan Uribe could only get a minor league deal. Had Iwamura become a free agent, it’s unlikely that he would have received a higher salary than the option called for. $8 million over two years seemed the most likely scenario.
Last year, the teams that tried to get a jump on the market usually ended up getting burned. The same could happen this winter.
With Iwamura locked in at second, the Pirates could now be looking at the following lineup:
CF Andrew McCutchen
2B Iwamura
LF Lastings Milledge
RF Garrett Jones
C Ryan Doumit
1B Jeff Clement/Steve Pearce
3B Andy LaRoche
SS Ronny Cedeno
They also have the option of picking up a right fielder and sticking Jones at first base.
The Rays, who needed to save money anyway, considered Iwamura expendable because of Ben Zobrist’s presence. Zobrist figures to be the team’s starting second baseman next year, though there is the chance he could end up in the outfield. Sean Rodriguez, who was picked up in the Scott Kazmir deal, will be the fallback at second.
Chavez will compete for a bullpen spot in spring training, and he should have a leg up on the competition. The former Rangers prospect had a 4.01 ERA and a 47/22 K/BB ratio in 67 1/3 innings as a 25-year-old rookie for the Pirates this year. He’s home-prone, something that’s going to be even more of an issue in the American League, and the odds are against him developing into a legitimate setup man. The Rays were just happy to get something in return for Iwamura and to be off the hook for having to pay the buyout on his option.

Report: Teams reluctant to gamble on Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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In Saturday’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo suggests that free agent Cliff Lee is seeking a guaranteed major league deal between $6 and $8 million plus incentives. That is turning some otherwise interested teams away, as the lefty is still recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 31, 2014.

Last month, Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said the pitcher would need “a perfect fit” to pitch in 2016. He also noted that Lee has begun a full offseason throwing program.

In his most recent season, Lee compiled a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings for the Phillies. The Phillies had signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010 but declined a club option for the 2016 season, instead buying him out for $12.5 million.

Orioles reconsidering signing Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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In an article for MASN on Friday, Steve Melewski noted that the Orioles were reluctant to forfeit their first round draft pick (14th overall) in order to sign free agent starter Yovani Gallardo. The club is now reconsidering its stance and rechecking the right-handers medicals, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.

Gallardo, who turns 30 on February 27, posted a 3.42 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 68 walks over 184 1/3 innings for the Rangers last season. The Rangers had acquired him in a trade with the Brewers, sending Luis Sardinas, Corey Knebel, and minor leaguer Marcos Diplan to Milwaukee.

Gallardo has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his last seven seasons. He remains unsigned into February, however, because his strikeout rate has rapidly decreased with each year since 2012. Per FanGraphs, that rate was 23.7 percent in 2012, then went to 18.6 percent, 17.9 percent, and 15.3 percent progressively. Some of that may have to do with diminishing fastball velocity, as Gallardo’s 90.4 MPH average marked a career low among his eight full seasons with at least 100 innings pitched.

The Orioles lost starter Wei-Yin Chen, who signed with the Marlins, and the back end of their rotation is highly speculative with Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Tyler Wilson. Adding a veteran like Gallardo, even if he is apparently declining, may be stabilizing.

Freddy Garcia is calling it a career

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Elsa/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez passes along word from the Dominican Republic that right-hander Freddy Garcia will hang up his cleats for good after Sunday’s Caribbean Series championship game.

Garcia will start that game for the Tigres de Aragua out of Venezuela. He’s taking on Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlan.

“Venezuelan fans are expecting something good from Freddy and so is everybody,” said Tigres de Aragua manager Eddie Perez, who also serves as the bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves. “Knowing that it’s his last game is going to make it very special. We all hope he pitches a really good game so he can retire in a good way and bring the title for Venezuela. Everybody who is rooting for Venezuela expects him to do well.”

Garcia’s last major league game was in the 2013 postseason. The 39-year-0ld will finish with a 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 6.4 K/9 in 2,264 career regular-season innings. He had a 3.26 ERA in 11 playoff starts, winning a World Series title with the White Sox in 2005.

Video: 2016 will be a season to remember

Carlos+Correa+Houston+Astros+v+Arizona+Diamondbacks+Ctyu5RiU3SWl
Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com put together this very cool video montage reviewing the 2015 season and setting us up for what should be a wild 2016. Young stars, veterans chasing milestones, unpredictable divisional races.

It’s so close to spring training. Let’s do this.