Akinori Iwamura Rumors

Akinori Iwamura Has Agreement With Rakuten

NPB Tracker's Patrick Newman passes along a report indicating that infielder Akinori Iwamura has a basic agreement in place with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. 

Iwamura, 32 in February, hit just .173/.285/.250 in 229 plate appearances split between the Pirates and Athletics this season. In three seasons with Tampa Bay, he hit a far more respectable .281/.354/.393 while moving from third to second base. Iwamura played eight years with Tokyo Yakult Swallows before joining the then-Devil Rays, who won his rights with a $4.5MM bid.

Iwamura indicated a desire to remain in North America just last month, but perhaps the offer from Rakuten was just too good to pass up.

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Iwamura Wants To Stay In Majors

Akinori Iwamura wishes to continue playing in North America next season, tweets Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker.  The infielder is coming off by far the worst of his four major league seasons, posting a .535 OPS in 229 plate appearances with the Pirates (who released him in September) and the Athletics (who released him two weeks ago).  Iwamura's ability to play both second and third makes him a candidate for teams in need of infield depth this winter, but it seems almost certain that he'd have to sign a minor league contract and then perform well in spring training to win a spot on a big league roster.

If this scenario doesn't play out for the 31-year-old and he decides to return to his native country after all, Newman believes that Iwamura's Japanese rights are still held by Yakult.  Iwamura played all nine of his professional seasons in Japan with the Swallows, and it was Yakult who acquired the $4.5MM posting fee for the infielder when his rights were obtained by Tampa Bay in the 2006-07 offseason. 

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Athletics Release Akinori Iwamura

The Athletics released infielder Akinori Iwamura, tweets Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.  Iwamura would have filed for free agency a month from now anyway, but it makes sense to remove him from the 40-man roster now.

Iwamura, 31, was acquired by the Pirates from the Rays for Jesse Chavez in November.  The Bucs exercised Iwamura's $4.85MM option as part of the deal, making him their highest-paid player.  He was terrible for the Pirates and was designated for assignment by June.  Iwamura was released in September and signed with the A's.  He'll need to rebuild value with a minor league deal.

Oakland To Sign Iwamura

Pirates Release Iwamura, Outright Kratz

The Pirates have given infielder Akinori Iwamura his unconditional release, tweets Rob Biertempfel of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He was designated for assignment along with catcher Erik Kratz earlier this week. Biertempfel says Kratz cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Iwamura, 31, failed to meet even the lowest of expectations after being acquired from the Rays last offseason. He hit just .182/.292/.267 in 193 plate appearances for the big league team in 2010, but was a bit better in Triple-A with a .264/.404/.393 line. This was the second time the Pirates designated Iwamura for assignment this season, certainly not what they expected to do with their highest-paid position player.

Kratz, 30, debuted in the major leagues this summer after a decade in the minors. His minor league numbers suggest he has some pop and patience, but he collected just four singles and two walks in 36 big league plate appearances.

Pirates To Designate Iwamura & Kratz

The Pirates will designate Akinori Iwamura and Erik Kratz for assignment tomorrow, the team announced this afternoon. In related moves, Pittsburgh will recall Pedro Ciriaco, Jason Jaramillo, Brad Lincoln and Justin Thomas and select the contracts of Alex Presley, Brandon Moss, Brian Bass and Steven Jackson.

The Pirates, who traded for Iwamura last offseason, have already designated the infielder for assignment once in 2010. Pittsburgh reportedly tried to find a trade partner, but ultimately kept Iwamura and demoted him to the minor leagues. The 31-year-old hit .265/.403/.395 at Triple A Indianapolis – much better than the .182/.292/.267 line he posted in 193 big league plate appearances this year.

Kratz, 30, debuted in the major leagues this summer after a decade in the minors. His minor league numbers suggest he has some pop and patience, but Kratz collected just four singles and two walks in 36 big league plate appearances.

Rockies In No Rush To Acquire Infielders

The Rockies are interested in Ty Wigginton and will monitor the market for infielders, but they will wait to see if the club remains in contention before dealing for infield help. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that for now, the Rockies will rely on Clint Barmes and Jonathan Herrera while Troy Tulowitzki's broken wrist heals. If the Rockies remain in contention after they play seven consecutive series against winning teams, they could pursue infield help.

If the 37-33 Rockies are contending in mid-July, Rosenthal suggests Wigginton and Dan Uggla as possible targets. Other infielders such as Adam Kennedy, Akinori Iwamura, Jayson Nix and Ryan Theriot could also draw interest from GM Dan O'Dowd and the rest of the Rockies front office. But at least for now, the team is in wait-and-see mode. 

Pirates Designate Iwamura, Send Him To Minors

TUESDAY, 9:07pm: Langosch tweets that the Bucs weren't able to find a trade partner for Iwamura, and thus the infielder will be optioned to Triple-A.

5:27pm: ESPN's Buster Olney tweets that the Pirates are in fact willing to eat a lot of the money owed to Iwamura in order to trade him.

4:50pm: The Associated Press reports (via ESPN) that the Pirates will actively try to trade Iwamura. They would presumably pay most of the $2.5MM remaining on his salary in any deal.

WEDNESDAY, 2:43pm: The Pirates have designated Akinori Iwamura for assignment, according to MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch (via Twitter).

With top prospect Pedro Alvarez joining the team today and Andy LaRoche sliding into a utility role, there was no room left on the roster for the underachieving Iwamura. The Pirates acquired the 31-year-old infielder from the Rays in the offseason, making him their highest-paid player. However, in 193 plate appearances for Pittsburgh this season, Iwamura hit just .182/.292/.267.

The Pirates will be on the hook for the rest of Iwamura's $4.85MM salary, less the pro-rated portion of the major league minimum if he catches on with another club.

Some Interest In Iwamura

Pirates GM Neal Huntington told Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that "a handful of clubs have expressed some level of interest" in Akinori Iwamura. When the Pirates designated the infielder for assignment last week, it became apparent that they would eat most of the $2.4MM owed to Iwamura in any deal.

Realistically, the Pirates have to absorb salary if they want to move Iwamura. The 31-year-old hit .182/.292/.267 in 193 plate appearances this year. That's a steep drop from his established level of production (.281/.354/.393 entering the season), so teams could think of Iwamura as a good buy-low candidate, or a player in steep decline.

The Rockies, Angels and Twins are among the teams that could use infield help. Most clubs have not been interested, but Huntington said he expects some closure early this week.

Coonelly: Fewer Trades For Pirates This Summer

This July's trading deadline will be the third for the Pirates' current management regime, and team president Frank Coonelly predicts it will be the least active yet. Coonelly told Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he doesn't expect the team to trade away veterans this summer, the way they moved players like Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, and Xavier Nady in 2008 and 2009.

One reason for such an approach is the fact that the Pirates just don't have that many appealing veteran players left on their roster. While the club probably wouldn't mind finding a taker for players like Akinori Iwamura (.178/.289/.258) or Octavio Dotel (5.40 ERA), their 2010 performances so far will make dealing them challenging, though Dotel has been more effective lately, as Tim pointed out earlier this week.

With no fire sale imminent, Coonelly even suggests it "could be the reverse" of the past two July 31st deadlines, hinting that the Pirates could be buyers rather than sellers. For a club currently sitting in the NL Central cellar, 15 games below .500 and 11.5 games out of first place, that would be a pretty shocking move.

The more likely scenario for the Pirates is letting young players like Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln, and eventually Pedro Alvarez continue to gain major league experience for the rest of the season. If the team makes a couple low-cost acquisitions this winter that work out a little better than Iwamura and Dotel have so far, there should be some optimism for 2011.