The Pittsburgh Pirates have designated Akinori Iwamura for assignment, clearing room for Pedro Alvarez to be added to the 25-man roster. Iwamura had a very disappointing season with the Pirates, hitting for a .182/.292/.267 line in 165 at-bats. He was acquired in the off-season in exchange for Jesse Chavez, who coincidentally was optioned to AAA by the Atlanta Braves yesterday.
Iwamura has a $4.85 M salary, which the Pirates are on the hook for. The Pirates will most likely look to trade Iwamura in the next ten days, which could go one of two ways. The Pirates could either give him to another team for salary relief, or could offer to pay his salary to try and get something of value in return. I wouldn’t expect much more than a middle relief prospect.
Iwamura was coming off a .290/.355/.390 season in 2009, but lost his roster spot in Tampa Bay to Ben Zobrist, who had a breakout year last year. The Rays had an option on Iwamura in 2010 for $4.85 M, but didn’t have any need for him. The Pirates acquired him for Chavez, with other teams like the Minnesota Twins reportedly trying to trade for him at the time.
Iwamura’s addition was a smart one, as the Pirates didn’t have any second basemen at the major league level. It’s just a move that didn’t work out. With the emergence of Neil Walker, there is no reason to keep Iwamura around. The Pirates have to non-tender Iwamura this off-season, due to a stipulation in his contract, although that stipulation probably wasn’t needed with his production this year. That means the Pirates could have either cut ties with Iwamura now, kept him until the trade deadline, trying to get some sort of return on him, or kept him until the end of the season, getting no return. Designating him for assignment now is the best choice. It allows the Pirates to try and get something for Iwamura, and the chances of him gaining any value from now to the trade deadline at the end of July is very slim.
The Pirates now have two spots open on their 40-man roster, which is an interesting situation. They could make a waiver claim for a guy like Jake Fox, although that would likely mean that Delwyn Young or Ryan Church would be removed from the roster, which would still leave them at two open spots. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Jameson Taillon could eventually take one of those spots. A Major League contract for a high school pitcher isn’t totally uncommon, especially for a guy who is expected to move through the minors like a college pitcher. Plus, a Major League contract could off-set the price of Taillon, spreading the overall contract over several years, and keeping the bonus low, which could allow the Pirates a better chance at signing the rest of the guys they drafted.