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.

Braves ink Blaine Boyer to a minor league deal

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 2:  Relief pitcher Blaine Boyer #48 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers to home plate during the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on October 2, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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The Braves have signed reliever Blaine Boyer to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Bowman adds that the right-hander has a “good chance” to make the Braves’ bullpen out of spring training.

Boyer, 35, spent the past season with the Brewers, finishing with a 3.95 ERA and a 26/17 K/BB ratio in 66 innings.

Boyer, of course, started his professional baseball career with the Braves as they selected him in the third round of the 2000 draft. Since the Braves traded him in 2009, Boyer has pitched for the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Mets, Padres, and Twins along with the Brewers.

Report: Rays nearing a deal with Shawn Tolleson

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 18: Reliever Shawn Tolleson #37 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the eighth inning at Busch Stadium on June 18, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Update (6:48 PM EST): Topkin reports the contract will be of the major league variety.

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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Rays and free agent reliever Shawn Tolleson are close to finalizing a contract.

Tolleson, who turns 29 years old on Thursday, had an ugly 2016 season, finishing with a 7.68 ERA and a 29/10 K/BB ratio in 36 1/3 innings. He was one of the Rangers’ best relievers in the two seasons prior to that, however, which included saving 35 games in 2015.