Rays get something for nothing in Iwamura trade

I have to say, I’m pretty impressed by Tampa Bay’s ability to turn Akinori Iwamura into a young, cost-controllable fireballing reliever.

It was essentially a done deal that Iwamura would become a free agent so Tampa could move to Ben Zobrist as a full-time second baseman (with Sean Rodriguez knocking on the door for playing time). As time was going on, I was beginning to wonder if other teams would just wait out the Rays and bid on Iwamura as a free agent. While Iwamura is a valuable second baseman, he’s definitely overpaid given his $4.25 salary in 2010. The bidding to have Iwamura join a team didn’t seem enough to get a deal done. But it did, and the Pirates were the surprise victors. Iwamura instantly becomes the Pirates’ highest-paid player (which is a whole separate post in and of itself.)

The Rays parlayed someone clearly overpaid — yes, valuable, but overpaid — into Jesse Chavez. The 25-year old just came off a season in which he posted a 4.01 ERA in 67.1 games along with a 1.35 WHIP and 6.3 K/9, a low number given his average velocity off his fastball: 94.5 mph.

The Rays Party goes into an extremely in-depth look at Chavez, so I’ll point you there instead of fumbling my way through it using his data.

Even though Chavez is one of roughly a million live-arm middle relievers to pass through Major League Baseball and has yet to fully prove he belongs in the majors, I’m choosing to look at this glass half-full: the Rays got something for nothing. Iwamura isn’t a zero, but from the Rays’ perspective, he was. That alone makes it a great trade for Tampa.

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  1. Evan Brunell said...

    My reasoning goes beyond what I’m about to cite and leave off after that, but here goes:

    Fangraph’s page of Iwamura (http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=7781&position=2B/3B) values Iwamura’s 2007 and 2008, respectively, at $1.8 and $2.4 million.

    Given Aki missed a large period of time in ‘09, is officially on the wrong side of 30 and had a worse season via OPS than his first season, I can’t see his 2009 final numbers justifying a $4.25 million salary.

    (Aki’s value jumped in 2009 given his move from 3B to 2B, despite dipping offensively.)

  2. Evan Brunell said...

    As Homer Simpson would say… D’Oh! It doesn’t entirely torpedo my contention because I still think he’s overpaid, but no need to go into it—it does affect my thoughts on the subject, which is enough.

    That said, where is this “shot to turn Iwamura into more than Chavez” coming from? Are you banking on a desperation deadline deal from someone? That’s all they can do—he’s a free agent after the year.

    (Not technically, but he effectively is. The clause states sign him to an extension or release him. No arbitration.)

  3. Adam W. said...

    I can see how Iwamura is overpaid as a bench player on the Rays, but he’ll be the starting second-sacker for the Pirates. Also, his stats will probably show a modest bump due to the inferiority of the NL, so he’s a good bet to finish the year as one of the ten most valuable 2Bs in baseball (barring injury).

    More importantly, this trade completes what is a huge net gain for the Pirates. For the cost of a reliever with moderate upside, they managed to:
    -Not overpay Freddy Sanchez
    -Acquire a blue-chip pitching prospect
    -Acquire a 2B who is essentially Freddy Sanchez

  4. Dave Studeman said...

    Evan, I think you’re reading that incorrectly.  You’re quoting Fangraphs’ estimate of his actual salary.  Their estimate of his free agency worth was $11 million two years ago and $5.5 million this year.

    The Pirates would have to pay more than $4.85 million to get a 2.0 WAR player at second base on the free agent market.  A good comp might be Luis Castillo, who will make $6 mil this year as part of a four-year deal.  Obviously, Iwamura’s is only a one-year deal for now.

  5. Brian J. said...

    Aki has been worth $9.1 million per year on average over the last three years… he’s actually EXTREMELY underpaid based on what a guy like him would have cost on the free agent market as Dave pointed out.

    Saving money was the key to the Rays here… not what they got back. If they were interested in maximizing Aki’s value, they would have held him until July and dealt him to a needy contender the way the Pirates did with Freddy Sanchez.

    Not to say that Jesse Chavez is worthless but the Pirates have a shot to turn Iwamura into more than Chavez and have a very skilled second baseman in the mean time.

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