Inbox: Analyzing Iwamura-Chavez deal
Beat reporter Jenifer Langosch answers fans' questions
As the Akinori Iwamura-Jesse Chavez trade was announced just over a week ago, the e-mails started arriving in a flurry. From my sampling of your comments, the deal got mixed reviews. Hopefully my coverage of the deal answered most of your questions, but we'll use a good chunk of this week's Inbox to clarify the deal.
I am skeptical of the trade of Chavez. What happened to building a core of young guys and getting rid of heavy salaries of players in their last year of contract? Iwamura is a good second baseman, but he is going to be 31 years old and is in the last year of his hefty contract.
-- Brian F., Bethel Park, Pa.
It is noteworthy that this trade largely does go against the Pirates' philosophy of infusing all sorts of young talent into the organization by dealing away older players whom the club has less control of. The Pirates were going to have Chavez through the 2014 season. They are not guaranteed to have Iwamura beyond 2010.
In short, though, this deal was made because the Pirates had an immediate need that they could not fill internally. It became clearer as the 2009 season neared an end that Delwyn Young just wasn't strong enough defensively to be an everyday option at second. Andy LaRoche could have been an option if he had switched positions, but then who would have played third? It's become evident that management does not think prospect Neil Walker is ready there, and Pedro Alvarez -- the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft -- is likely still a stop in Triple-A away.
Pittsburgh has the payroll flexibility to handle Iwamura's $4.85 million contract, which is by no means exorbitant if he can stay healthy and produce at the same level he did with the Rays. He's above-average defensively, too, so that's a plus.
In talking to general manager Neal Huntington, it was obvious that he felt the Pirates could replace Chavez easier than they could acquire a decent second baseman. It's not out of the question that the Pirates can sign Iwamura beyond next season. But even if they don't, the thinking is that they are at least one year closer to a guy such as Chase D'Arnaud, the Bucs' fourth-round pick in 2008, being in Pittsburgh.
If the Pirates need relief pitching, why in the world would they trade Chavez for a mediocre infielder?
-- Steve B., Mt. Joy, Pa.
You're right, Steve, the Pirates had relievers near the top of their needs list this winter. And with the loss of Chavez, that's one more bullpen spot to fill. In explaining why he would deal a player from an area of need, Huntington emphasized research that shows the unpredictability of relievers. In other words, Huntington's thinking was that there were no guarantees that Chavez would be as reliable in 2010 as he was for the most part in '09. Management is convinced that the right-handed reliever will be easier to replace.
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We'll see what happens, but this trade only further highlights the need for the Pirates to go out and get some bullpen help. I also think it increases the need for a left-handed arm. After the Pirates traded away John Grabow, Chavez was manager John Russell's best option against left-handed hitters, and with him gone, there is a definite void.
I like Iwamura as a quality player, but I don't think the Pirates have a place for him unless LaRoche isn't in their future plans, because Alvarez is on the way.
-- Matthew A., Fairfax, Va.
You bring up an interesting point, Matthew, but it's something that will have to play out in 2010. Unless Alvarez gets hurt, there is no question he will be the team's starting third baseman in 2011. That would leave LaRoche out of a position. At that point, it would seem that the Pirates have two options. They could either attempt to sign Iwamura past next season and make him a fit at second base for multiple years. Or the club can move LaRoche to be the everyday second baseman and let Iwamura become a free agent.
And who knows? If Alvarez is in Pittsburgh midseason in 2010 and the Pirates expect LaRoche to be a long-term fit at second, maybe they try to deal Iwamura at the Trade Deadline to get something back. I know. We're getting way ahead of ourselves now. But it's a thought.
However, what the Pirates like about this situation is it gives them options. Based on what happens next season, the club can decide if it wants to move LaRoche or if it wants to make an attempt at retaining Iwamura.
Now that the Pirates have acquired Iwamura, what do you see in the future for Young? He was such a dedicated team player whose bat really helped us out a lot last season.
-- Emmett G., Pittsburgh
When you look back at Young's 2009 numbers, he actually produced better in a pinch-hitting role than he did as a starter. In 38 pinch-hit at-bats last year, Young hit .316. He batted .260 as a starter. It's no wonder why the Pirates are thrilled to have him as an option off the bench. Young can spot-start at second or in right field, but don't expect him to get a crack at either starting job.
Young does deserve credit for the work he put in with infield coach Perry Hill in August and September. He knew that second-base job was up for grabs, and he put in extra defensive work on almost a daily basis to try to earn it. There was certainly defensive improvement made, but it just wasn't enough for the Pirates to feel comfortable with Young fielding behind a group of pitchers that induce a lot of ground balls.
What Minor League players, if any, will be added to the 40-man roster so that there isn't a risk losing them in the Rule 5 Draft?
-- Rick B., Hollywood, Fla.
The 2006 Draft class is the one to highlight this offseason, as any players who were 19 or older and drafted that year would be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Brad Lincoln, the Pirates' first-round pick in '06, is a lock to be added to the 40-man roster before the Nov. 20 deadline. I'd also expect Bryan Morris, despite his struggles, to be added, too. Other players Pittsburgh could consider, but who are definitely not guarantees, are Jim Negrych and Shelby Ford.
Also, look for outfielder Gorkys Hernandez to earn a spot. Hernandez was signed at the age of 18, but just finished his fifth season playing professionally, which makes him Rule 5 Draft eligible.
With Matt Capps in his last year of arbitration, the prospect of him being traded or leaving the Pirates may be high. Who in the bullpen is the most ready to take over the closer's role if Capps departs?
-- Jimmy H., Somerset, Pa.
Chavez was thought to be a potential candidate, though obviously he's out of the mix now. That still leaves the Pirates with two closer candidates in Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek. Both would seem to have some of the qualities of a closer (and Hanrahan has done it before in Washington) if Capps is either dealt this offseason or loses the job next year because of poor performance.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.