Let’s be honest here: the Pirates aren’t competing in 2010.
There is plenty of room for optimism in other areas of the organization. Pedro Alvarez and Brad Lincoln will likely make their debuts in June. Jose Tabata may also join that list. The Pirates will also get to see what they have from some of the 2009 trades, especially from the likes of Lastings Milledge, Charlie Morton, and Joel Hanrahan. Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen will both get a chance to build on their rookie seasons.
Despite this, there is little chance that the Pirates pull a 2008 Tampa Bay Rays style turnaround and compete in 2010. Which is why the Akinori Iwamura deal is so puzzling.
The Pirates acquired Iwamura today from the Rays for Jesse Chavez. Iwamura will fill a big hole at second base, as the Pirates were looking at having Delwyn Young as their 2010 starter, which could have been a disaster. However, the deal makes little sense when you consider the insignificance of shoring up the second base position in 2010.
Iwamura isn’t exactly the missing piece of the puzzle. He also is only under contract for one more season, which means the Pirates aren’t locking down the position for years to come. That’s what makes the move so puzzling. The Pirates traded an effective reliever in Jesse Chavez. Chavez not only posted excellent numbers against left handed hitters, but he also was under control through the 2014 season.
Trading a relief pitcher doesn’t bother me much, as I feel that relief pitchers are the easiest to replace. Chavez is a perfect example of this. Coming in to the 2009 season, no one expected him to even be considered for a roster spot. He was the last guy to make the team, and many expected him to be sent down a few weeks in to the season. Chavez ended up being a big surprise, holding down a roster spot the entire season, and serving as one of the most reliable bullpen arms the Pirates had in 2009.
I have no doubt that the Pirates can replace Chavez. I just wonder why the Pirates felt the need to add Iwamura for one season. In my opinion, this deal makes sense if one of two things happen:
1. The Pirates extend Iwamura beyond the 2010 season. This would make the most sense, as the Pirates don’t have an option to replace Iwamura after the 2010 season. Shelby Ford regressed in 2009. Brian Friday struggled in AA. Chase d’Arnaud and Josh Harrison have yet to play above high-A ball. The earliest we could see someone ready is mid-season 2011, which means Iwamura would need to be extended at least one year.
2. The Pirates trade Iwamura in mid-season 2010. I could see the following scenario playing out: Pedro Alvarez gets the call in June. Andy LaRoche, hitting well, moves to second base. Iwamura gets traded for prospects. This assumes that LaRoche hits like he did in the final month of the season, thus earning a spot in the starting lineup.
I think the truth could be a hybrid of the two options. We don’t know if LaRoche will carry his 2009 September hot streak in to the 2010 season. We also don’t know when an internal option will be ready for second base. Iwamura gives the Pirates an option, and someone they can extend if LaRoche doesn’t work out in 2010, and if no one steps up in the minors to contend for a 2011 job.
Of course, if LaRoche does hit, the Pirates can deal Iwamura for prospects, and would probably get a better return than they would have if they would have dealt Jesse Chavez. That would allow them to start LaRoche at second, leaving plenty of time for an internal option to emerge. At the same time, the Pirates have the security of an established second baseman on the roster in case LaRoche struggles in 2010.
If nothing like the above happens, and at the end of the day the Pirates trade five years of Chavez for one year of Iwamura in what will likely be a meaningless year, then this trade will seem very questionable. Then again, the Pirates have plenty of money to spend in order to add to the 2010 team, which could improve the outlook of the 2010 season, which would make more sense out of this deal.