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.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

Blue Jays roster and schedule
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”