Sports Outside the Beltway

Devil Rays Get Bargain in Iwamura

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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The Devil Rays got a great deal considering Akinori Iwamura is so good with the glove. Defensive is so under rated in MLB. I just hope his bat can adjust to the Major League pitching!

Posted by Russell Migl | December 21, 2006 | 08:17 pm | Permalink

I think his bat will adjust just fine. Check these stats out:
1) He batted .389 in six games to help his team win the tournament.
2) He batted .440 with three doubles, one triple and seven stolen bases in the U.S.-Japan All-Star Series in 2004. He had a pair of hits off Roger Clemens in Japan’s 3-1 win in Game 5 of that series. The next day, he had a double, triple and an RBI in Japan’s 5-1 victory in Game 6. Iwamura then delivered a game-tying double in the ninth inning off Akinori Otsuka in Game 7 and subsequently scored the winning run in Japan’s 3-2 victory.

Posted by Jonathan C. Mitchell | December 22, 2006 | 12:26 am | Permalink

I’m pumped for this season. If we can keep ourselves away from injuries we could have one of the most explosive and exciting lineups in baseball. Hows this look?

1. C. Crawford LF
2. A. Iwamura SS
3. R. Baldelli CF
4. D. Young RF
5. J. Gomes DH
6. J. Cantu 2B
7. T. Wigginton 1B
8. B.J. Upton 3B
9. D. Navarro C

We can go from there and for happiness’ sake try not to think about pitching past Kazmir.

Posted by Tim | December 22, 2006 | 01:15 am | Permalink

Thank you so much for your comment Tim. I’m glad there are other excited Rays fans in this world of bandwagon fans. I like your lineup but Joe Maddon has said it would look more like this:
1. R. Baldelli CF
2. D. Young RF
3. C. Crawford LF
4. T. Wigginton 1B
5. J. Cantu 2B
6. A. Iwamura 3B
7. J. Gomes DH
8. B. Zobrist SS
9. D. Navarro C

It’s explosive from 1-5 with “swing first ask questions later” hitters and 6-9 are more patient and love to work the pitcher.

Posted by Jonathan C. Mitchell | December 22, 2006 | 09:44 am | Permalink

I’ve never liked seeing Carl in a power position in the lineup. It always seems to me that he hits his HR’s when he doesn’t have to try to. Starting Iwamura down in the lineup may be good for the opening weeks, but if he has the patience and power to the gaps that he is said to have, I’d like to see him move up in front of Delmon so he could give the youngster more pitches to see. Also I still have faith in Gomes power, two years ago up until mid may last season he beat the ball to death, so I’d like to see him closer to the middle of the lineup. Thanks Jon, keep up the good work.

Posted by Tim | December 22, 2006 | 01:14 pm | Permalink

Hey man, I know you from myspace, I’m that Jimmy guy who’s always sending you random rants about the Rangers! Haha, great coverage and I wish your D-rays the best of luck next year (except when they’re playing the Rangers :) !) The Devil Rays look to be a very exciting team and honestly, it’d be nice to see someone besides the Yanks or Sox win that division! Blow ‘em out, boys!

Posted by Jimmy Ardis | December 22, 2006 | 08:27 pm | Permalink

Thanks Jimmy! I really appreciate your suppoprt and rooting for my Rays! I hope you guys beat up on the Sox and Yanks too!

Posted by Jonathan C. Mitchell | December 23, 2006 | 02:18 pm | Permalink

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