With the impending signing of Akinori Iwamura, seeing as Alan Nero has termed the deal as likely to be "smooth and quick", there's a logjam of players and open positions for the Rays.
Contrary to the National Sports Media(namely Ken Rosenthal), Rocco and Crawford have a 99.9% chance of being Opening Day starters for the Rays in 2007. That basically means that our OF is locked up with Crawford, Baldelli and Young, which pretty much puts Iwamura in the IF for the Rays.
Zobrist and Navarro are the only 2 starters which I can pencil in for the Rays right now, which eliminates Iwamura from the SS and Catching spots. We've got a 6-Man Steel Cage Match at 1B with Dukes, Norton, Wiggington, Gomes, Bankston and a probably mystery candidate(Guzman? Dellucci? Choi), which pretty much eliminates Iwamura from being much more than a spot-starter at 1B.
Where does that leave Iwamura? He could be a "Utility Fielder" like Friedman mentioned, but I think that was no more than a ploy to ensure that Upton or Cantu's trade value doesn't lower any further.
I've discussed with many people that we're probably going to trade Upton or Cantu before the season begins, if we get Iwamura signed. We're not going to bid 4.5 MIL to negotiate for a Utility Hitter that we're probably going to sign for between 8-10 MIL(total, not annual).
This raises the question, who should we trade? Both of them have tremendous upside that makes them tradeable pieces that can get us a nice reture and worth keeping, but both also have their downfalls that cause problems to the team in a game-by-game basis.
Jorge Cantu, 2B- Signed as an International Free Agent at the age of 16, he wasn't even considered to be a decent prospect until 2003 when he "broke out"(no pun intended) and started to show untapped power. He claimed that a weightlifting program and "mongolian beef" were the 2 big factors of this power surge. In 2004, he proved to be worthy of a last season "cup of coffee" and he impressed Lou enough where he was pretty much guaranteed a spot on the roster for the 2005 team. I guess Lou and LaMar changed their minds during that offseason, seeing as the signing of possible "Future Hall of Famer" Robbie Alomar relegated Cantu to a "pinch-hitter/Utility hitter" role. Thankfully for Cantu, the unexpected retirement of Alomar combined with lack of competition locked up the Starting 2B job for him. The doubles that Cantu had a knack for hitting in 2004 turned into HRs in 2004. He ended the season with 28 HRs and 117 RBIs(which is a Rays single-season record), while hitting a nice .286. In 2006, wrongly-diagnosed injuries among other things, proved to be reasons for a huge regression for Cantu.
B.J. Upton, SS/3B- He was our top pick in 2002 draft out of a HS in West Virginia and was probably the top overall talent out of that Draft Class. He was a phyical specimen whose bat drew comparisons to Alex Rodriguez. That bat was good enough that Upton made his MLB debut at the age of 19 in 2004. Rays fans all knew that Upton's bat and plate discipline were good enough that they were willing to deal with his "work in progress" fielding/glovework/foot-work. In his "cup of coffee", Upton looked overmatched in both hitting and field-work and the Rays figured that some seasoning in Durham would do him good in 2005. He spent all of 2005 in Durham and didn't look to improve at all as a player and his lack of a call-up made him question the organization's opinion of him. The NDRO quickly mended those fences and had him work with HOFer Ozzie Smith and the team's newly-appointed Special Instructor Jimy Williams on his footwork, which the organization deemed as the main reason for his high amount of errors and bad throws. The NDRO, later in 2006, talked Upton into moving to 3B and explaining to him it'd earn him a call-up to the Rays quicker than staying a SS because the team needed a 3B more than they thought they needed a SS. Through 2006, it seemed that the emphasis on fielding made his bat regress and he proved again to be overmatched in his call-up(except for the last few weeks).
Pros & Cons
-Tremendous power potential for a 2B
-Ethnicity appeals to the latin community in FL which be good for promotions/business deals.
-Horrible OBP and high amount of GIDPs(possibly due to slowness) put his bat into question.
-Lack of mobility and coordination make him the "Worst Fielding 2B in all of baseball".
-Has shown in the past to be a bit of a "Rally Killer" and doesn't hit very well with runners in scoring position.
-Tremendous Bat-speed, power potential, plate discipline.
-Great baserunner, very fast
-Will be a complete player and "All-Star" calibur when it's all said and done.
-Won't be 22 until AFTER the 2007 season begins
-Poor footwork and "overthinking" his throws cause him to have 30+ Error seasons.
-Regressions in hitting are some reason to be worried that he may be overthinking everything.
-Ego has come into question, it took him 4 years for him to acknowledge that SS may not be where he may be best suited. May be a "Me" player more than a "team" player.
Basically, it's between a "proven commodity" vs. "a potential superstar". If a team is willing to forego a lack of mobility for proven tremendous power at the MLB level, Cantu is your pick. If a team is willing to let Upton work out of his defensive struggles on his own and show that it's willing to be confident in him being any everyday major leaguer for them, Upton is your pick.
I believe that it's safer to trade Cantu, whose overall talent level is nowhere that of Upton's, but we may not get as great of a return for him as we would with Upton. I'd personally wait an entire year, when Brignac and Longoria are on the cusps of deserving MLB ABs combined with giving Upton a full chance at proving himself at 3B, before I'd consider trading Upton. Upton has tremendous physical ability that I think that he'll eventually solve his defensive problems.