Pirates Acquire Iwamura

The Pittsburgh Pirates announced they have acquired infielder Akinori Iwamura from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for right-handed pitcher Jesse Chavez.

The 30-year-old Iwamura, who was a nine-year veteran of the Japanese Central League while playing with Yakult from 1998 to 2006, spent the last three seasons playing with Tampa Bay. He was converted from a third baseman to a second baseman following the 2007 campaign and went on to make 152 appearances at second base for the American League champion Rays in 2008. Iwamura also led the Rays in hits (172), runs (91) and at bats (627) in 2008 while ranking third in the American League in triples (nine).

A career .281 hitter in the Major Leagues, the left-handed hitting Iwamura hit .290 (67-for-231) with 19 extra-base hits and 22 RBI in 69 games for the Rays in 2009. He missed close to three months of big-league action after suffering a partially torn ACL in a collision with Florida's Chris Coghlan on May 24 (he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on June 22).

Pirates GM Neal Huntington announced that the Pirates have exercised the club option on Iwamura for the 2010 season. "Akinori Iwamura brings to the Pittsburgh Pirates solid attributes offensively, defensively, on the base paths and in the clubhouse," said Huntington. "He is a good athlete with above average speed and is a tough out with a solid career on-base percentage. Additionally, he played Gold Glove caliber third base for years in Japan and has made a smooth transition to second base. We are very pleased to add a player of his caliber to our lineup and to our organization."

Iwamura, a six-time Gold Glove winner (2000-02, 2004-06) and five-time All-Star (2001-02, 2004-06) while playing in Japan, signed a three-year deal with Tampa Bay on December 15, 2006.

During his rookie season with the Rays in 2007, Iwamura hit .285 with 21 doubles, 10 triples, seven home runs, 34 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 123 games. His .359 on-base percentage that season tied him with Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki for third among Major League rookies and set a Rays rookie record. He also produced a .975 fielding percentage in 2007 to rank first among all Major League third basemen.

Iwamura has also captured two Gold Medals while playing with Japan during the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics, hitting .386 with three RBI in 2006 and .286 with three RBI in 2009.

"I'm very excited for the new challenge," Iwamura said by phone from Japan, through a translator. "I spoke to Neal Huntington, and I feel very appreciated."

The Pirates could sign Iwamura to an extension, and Huntington indicated they will broach the subject.

"I'm definitely interested in the long term, but I first have to do what I can do," Iwamura said. "We'll see what happens. Hopefully, we can go to the playoffs next season."

The 26-year-old Chavez spent his first full season in the Majors in 2009 and led the Pittsburgh pitching staff with 73 appearances. He was acquired by the Pirates from Texas on July 31, 2006, in a deal for pitcher Kip Wells.

"I'm really surprised (by the trade), especially considering I've barely made a dent in the big leagues," Chavez said. "It's going to be different, but I think it will be fun."

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