Pirates bench Akinori Iwamura, move ex-catcher Neil Walker to second base

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Back in November the Pirates traded reliever Jesse Chavez to the Rays for Akinori Iwamura and then picked up his $4.85 million option for 2010, but manager John Russell announced today that they’re already cutting bait on the struggling second baseman.
Iwamura has batted just .173 in 44 games while showing decreased range defensively following knee surgery last year, so benching the 31-year-old in what is yet another rebuilding season for the Pirates makes sense. In fact, acquiring him in the first place seemed like an odd move for a non-contending team.
More surprising is that the Pirates have decided to replace Iwamura at second base with Neil Walker, who was just called up from Triple-A last week and has a grand total of 23 career games at second base. He was the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft and moved to third base after not cutting it as a catcher, but he’d never played second base prior to this season and seems unlikely to be more than passable there.
Of course, in the short term the Pirates don’t lose much by taking a defensive hit to get him regular playing time and see what they have in Walker offensively long term, at which point they can better decide how he fits into the plans. Starting third baseman Andy LaRoche is hitting just .254 with a .685 OPS and now has a .669 OPS in 1,110 career plate appearances, so at age 26 he’s looking more and more like a full-blown bust.

Yankees acquire A.J. Cole from the Nats

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The New York Yankees have acquired reliever A.J. Cole from the Washington Nationals for cash considerations.

Cole was supposed to be the Nats’ fifth starter this year but that didn’t work out too well. He pitched in four games for the Nats, starting two, to the tune of a 13.06 ERA, having given up six home runs in 10.1 innings. That’s . . . something.

Don’t get too used to Cole on the New York roster, as this seems like one of those “give us an arm” for a couple of days deals, after which Cole will be DFA’d and will either accept an assignment to Scranton or be cut loose. Such is life at the fringes for a guy who is out of minor league options.