The Dismanting of the 2008 AL Champion Rays Continues: Akinori Iwamura Traded

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIINovember 4, 2009

ST PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 03:  Akinori Iwamura #1 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates with Jason Bartlett #8 after Iwamura's two run home run in the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox in Game 2 of the American Leaugue Divisional Series at Tropicana Field on October 3, 2008 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

As Tampa Bay Rays followers, we knew it wouldn't be long. As the Yankees close in our their latest purchase of another World Series, there's a stark realization that Tampa Bay fans must face.

For the Rays to be able to compete in the high priced American League East and remain financially viable, the Rays must be smarter than the Yankees and Red Sox brass.

Brian Cashman, GM for the Yankees, may win Executive of the Year, but folks, give me $500 million to spend on three players, I could win the award.

True skill is being able to identify which assets of your team you can do without and projecting where young players may be in a year or two.

Rays Vice President Andrew Friedman displayed that skill when he traded Delmon Young and another prospect for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, the final two pieces that got the Rays over the proverbial hump and pushed them into contention.

As the team matures, it's to be expected that the Rays won't be able to retain some of the players that brought the AL pennant home to the bay area.

The first such player to go was pitcher Scott Kazmir, who was dealt at the deadline.

The next one to go is Akinori Iwamura, the 30-year-old second baseman who helped stabilize the Rays' infield while batting .274 with six homers, 48 RBI, and a .349 on-base percentage during the Rays championship run. Iwamura was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday for reliever Jesse Chavez.

Iwamura suffered an injury to his knee this season, missing all but 69 games. The absence opened the door for utility player Ben Zobrist, who turned into one of the Rays best players in 09, belting 27 HRs and 91 RBI while playing just about every position on the field.

With Iwamura out of the picture, the Rays could decide to make Zobrist their full time second baseman. Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez will also be in consideration to fill the hole.

"We've got areas we need to try to address, with the bullpen and the catching situation," Friedman told the Tampa Tribune . "With Zobrist, Brignac and Rodriguez, it's not clear how things are going to shake out, but it was an area where we had some depth."

Rays fans are hoping Tampa Bay has found another diamond in reliever Jesse Chavez. Friedman says the kid has "swing and miss stuff" and has a tremendous upside.

He led all rookies with 73 appearances in 2009. Chavez for his career is 1-5 with a 4.48 ERA in 88 appearances. He's failed to record a save in six opportunities.  In 82.1 innings, he's had 63 strike outs.

"It's tough to give up a guy like Jesse Chavez," Pirates GM Neal Huntington told Pittsburgh Post Gazette , "But as we've talked about before, the bullpen is the most difficult to predict future performances."

At this point, it's unlikely Chavez will develop into the team's closer in the immediate future, but he just may be the right fit as a key setup man in the Rays bullpen.

For the Rays, they get something for a player they likely would have had to decline an option on.

It may not be $500 million, but it's the kind of deal, if Chavez turns out, that can keep the Rays viable in the AL East race.