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.

MLB teams pay tribute to José Fernández’s memory

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Following the announcement of the 24-year-old’s death, Major League Baseball observed a moment of silence for José Fernández before each of today’s games. While this afternoon’s Marlins-Braves game was cancelled out of respect for the organization, Miami painted Fernández’s jersey number on the mound in honor of their former pitcher.

Other teams, like the Mets, Mariners, and Dodgers, chose to honor Fernández by hanging his No. 16 jersey in their dugout:

Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports reports that David Ortiz‘s pregame retirement ceremony at Tropicana Field was canceled at the player’s request:

The Astros and Diamondbacks each displayed a personal tribute to Fernández, writing the number 16 on their caps and etching his number and initials in the bullpen:

Rest in peace, Fernández.

Tempers flare, benches clear during Sunday’s Nationals-Pirates game

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 24: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reaches on a fielder's choice in the fourth inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
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A fake tag by third baseman Jung Ho Kang led to a beanball and emptied benches during Sunday afternoon’s game between the Nationals and Pirates at PNC Park.

In the top of the third inning, Bryce Harper led off with a triple to right field. He ran hard towards third base and Kang feigned receiving a throw which had, in reality, missed the cut-off man. That caused Harper, who had already committed to sliding head-first into the third base bag, to come into the bag awkwardly, injuring his left hand. Harper stayed in the game initially, scoring on an Anthony Rendon single, but he did not take his position for the bottom half of the inning. Chris Heisey took his spot in right field.

On the Nationals’ television broadcast, former major leaguer F.P. Santangelo said, “Kang faked a tag. You don’t fake a tag in the big leagues. You don’t fake a tag anywhere — you can hurt somebody.”

Nationals starter A.J. Cole got two quick outs to start the bottom of the third, bringing up Kang. Cole immediately threw a fastball up and in at Kang, which ended up sailing behind his back. Cole was immediately ejected by home plate umpire Jordan Baker. Some Pirates and Nationals players spilled out onto the field and the rest of the players and bullpens joined them not too long after.

Sean Rodriguez, known for his temper, needed to be held back by Gerrit Cole and David Freese. Rodriguez was ejected by Baker as well. When order was restored, Rafael Martin took over for Cole and struck out Kang to end the frame.

Cole and Rodriguez are likely looking at fines and suspensions. The Nationals should have more on Harper’s status after Sunday’s game is completed.