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.

White Sox won’t make bid for Bryce Harper

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The White Sox won’t make a bid for free agent outfielder Bryce Harper, Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reports. Believed to be the favorites to land shortstop Manny Machado in free agency, the White Sox watched him ink a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres. The club is apparently content with its roster otherwise.

Harper would certainly be an upgrade in the outfield, which currently features Adam Engel, Nicky Delmonico, and Jon Jay. It will soon feature prospects Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert.

Last season, Harper hit .249/.393/.496 with 34 hom eruns, 100 RBI, 103 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 695 plate appearances. He led all of baseball, drawing 130 walks. Harper is also a six-time All-Star who won the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Award and the 2015 NL Most Valuable Player Award.

The Phillies are still believed to be the favorites to sign Harper and the club is confident it will land him, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Daily News reports.