When the Tampa Bay Devil Rays signed Japanese 3B Akinori Iwamura they got more than they bargained for.
“His versatility is one of the things that really attracted us to him … and we also feel he can be a spark plug … wherever he’s in the lineup” Devil Rays vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said.
Iwamura, according to Rays executives, has the ability to play 3B, 2B, 1B, and both corner OF positions. “I would not put a specific position on any of our guys right now,” Friedman said. “It’s Dec. 15. All [the signing has done] is add versatility to our roster. As everybody knows, we were beset by injuries last year early in the year. And so we’ve created depth. And the way we look at it, it’s a very good problem to have. And things will sort itself out over time.” Remember, he’s won 6 Gold Gloves in 8 seasons in Japan. Iwamura asked manager Joe Maddon “how many gloves do I need to bring.” “I’m anxious to do anything to help us win games.” “I’m very, very excited. My goal is not to play in majors, but is to help the team win. Hopefully, I can help them win next year.”
The Rays also get a disciplined hitter who projects as a gap-to-gap type hitter.
“We think he’ll hit for more extra-bases and be an exciting player,” Friedman said. ESPN’s Keith Law defines his offensive profile like this: “Iwamura’s offensive profile – a good on-base guy with doubles power, but probably only 10-12 homers in the U.S. Tampa Bay has been short on hitters who take pitches or get on base, and having Iwamura toward the top of its lineup will help the team score runs and help it work pitchers more effectively.” The Rays desperately need people in this lineup to take pitches.
This signing also gives the Rays flexibility to make a trade.
The Rays now have the option of moving incumbent 2B Jorge Cantu, who is labeled as the worst defensive infielder in the league by some scouts, to 1B and DH. It also allows them to possibly trade Cantu midseason if he finds his hitting stroke again.
The Rays can also move B.J. Upton to CF and market him as an OF. The Marlins have already offered SP Ricky Nolasco for Upton but the Rays turned them down. At worst, Upton can be a 4th OF and 3B and get a good 450 at-bats this season if he isn’t traded for pitching.
Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, the Rays will get huge exposure and a huge market.
Imagine what it’s going to be like in Japan when the Rays play the Red Sox. Akinori Iwamura vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka. The best Japanese pitcher vs. the best Japanese hitter of the last couple years (in Japan). How about when the Rays play the Yankees? Akinori Iwamura vs. Kei Igawa. Not to mention that the Rays still have Shinjo Mori as a reliever who could face Hideki Matsui. Let’s not forget when the Rays play the Mariners and Ichiro.
The Rays got Akinori Iwamura for a total AAV of $4M, roughly the same as the Cubs paid for Mark DeRosa.
You think the Rays made a good deal? So do I.
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