Pirates designate Akinori Iwamura for assignment

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To make room for top prospect Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates on Wednesday designated big offseason acquisition Akinori Iwamura for assignment.
The Pirates picked up Iwamura from the Rays in November for reliever Jesse Chavez. But more important than the talent surrendered for him — Chavez was later dealt to Atlanta for Rafael Soriano and is now back in Triple-A — was that Pittsburgh took on a $4.85 million commitment in order to solidify their second-base situation.
It seemed like a safe enough play, if not the wisest way for a likely fifth- or sixth-place team to spend money. Iwamura, 31, was remarkably consistent in his three seasons with Tampa Bay, finishing with OPSs of 770, 729 and 745. He also proved to be an above average defender at second after moving off the hot corner to make room for Evan Longoria.
Iwamura, though, was a disaster for the Pirates, hitting just .182/.292/.267 in 165 at-bats. Primarily a leadoff man, he had scored just 18 runs all season. He had driven in nine.
Given his success in the other league and his ability to play two infield positions pretty well, Iwamura shouldn’t have to wait long to find work after clearing waivers. The Twins would be an obvious fit, given their injury problems and their poor production from third base. The Tigers, Angels, Yankees, A’s, Blue Jays and White Sox are other possibilities. Most would probably want him to head to Triple-A for a few weeks to find his swing, but it’s possible some team would give him a chance right away.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.