Report: Rays close to trading Akinori Iwamura

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Mark Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times reports that the Rays “are on the verge of completing a trade” for Akinori Iwamura.
Recent speculation had the Dodgers and Cubs interested in Iwamura, but Topkin writes that “an unexpected team” would be the destination. Tampa Bay holds a $4.85 million option or $550,000 buyout on Iwamura for 2010 and apparently has no plans to bring him back with Ben Zobrist and prospect Sean Rodriguez available to play second base.
Iwamura missed three months with a torn ACL in his left knee, which is a big concern for a player whose game is based largely on speed. Not only is his range at second base now in question, 12 percent of Iwamura’s career hits haven’t left the infield.
However, if most of his speed and mobility return following the injury Iwamura is a solid all-around player who offers an average glove at second or third base with a career .281/.354/.393 mark at the plate. A left-handed hitter with good plate discipline and modest power, he has on-base percentages of .359, .349, and .355 in three seasons since coming over from Japan while actually performing better against southpaws.
Solid defense, good speed, and a .350 OBP would be nice fit for any number of teams, particularly if the Rays are primarily looking to avoid paying the $550,000 buyout. Tampa Bay has until one day after the World Series to make a decision on Iwamura’s option, so a trade could happen quickly.
UPDATE: Topkin reports that the mystery is … the Pirates. We’ll have a full analysis once the details are announced, but for now Pittsburgh strikes me as an odd fit to say the least.

Kendrys Morales pitched a scoreless inning Sunday

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Nothing went right for the Blue Jays this weekend. The club was swept in a four-game series against the Athletics, including a 9-2 loss on Sunday. Not wanting to burn out his bullpen in a lopsided game — and perhaps thinking about the general entertainment value involved — Blue Jays manager John Gibbons decided to send designated hitter Kendrys Morales out to pitch the ninth inning. And in typical baseball fashion, he saw better results than some of the dudes who do this all the time.

Morales, who actually pitched in Cuba nearly 20 years ago, worked around a walk for a scoreless inning. He induced three fly outs and topped out at 87.4 mph on his fastball, per Brooks Baseball. He received a standing ovation on the way back to the dugout. Morales hasn’t been hearing that sort of thing for his contributions with the bat recently.

Morales, 34, is batting just .163/.248/.279 with three home runs through 32 games this season. There’s been some understandable clamoring for top prospect Vladmir Guerrero, Jr. to cut into his at-bats. For his part, Morales has been doing everything he can to break out of his slumber at the plate, including ditching the glasses he started wearing during spring training. Hey, whatever works. Morales also had two of Toronto’s four hits on Sunday.

On the heels of Morales’ first MLB appearance on the mound, it feels rather appropriate that the Blue Jays will get their first look at Angels sensation Shohei Ohtani — at least as a hitter — beginning on Tuesday.