The Pirates Can’t Trade Jose Tabata

I’ve always believed that the best approach for small market teams is to build a farm system that constantly provides replacements for the players in the majors.  When a star player is ready to leave, the system will ideally have a guy ready to take over and provide the same production.  The system will also allow the team to trade guys away as they get in to their expensive years, while replacing them with an internal option that is only being held back by the expensive player that was blocking him.

The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t to this stage yet.  Their rebuild really started with the 2008 draft, and they’re just now getting to the point where players from that draft are reaching AAA and the majors.  Considering that the 2011 season saw players from the 2006/2007 drafts make their way in to the majors, I’d say this is a normal progression rate.  The Pirates have some areas of depth, and some areas where they lack any depth what-so-ever.  The biggest area of depth on the team seems to be the outfield.

The Pirates have Andrew McCutchen anchoring the outfield in the majors.  McCutchen had a big year in 2011, seeing a boost in his power numbers.  His overall numbers over his first three seasons have been consistent, with a career .822 OPS.  The Pirates have at least four more years of control over McCutchen.  Since he’s arguably the best player on the team, any talk of trading him is pre-mature.

On either side of McCutchen, the Pirates have young outfielders who are just getting established in the majors.  Jose Tabata and Alex Presley are expected to start at the corners next year, with both outfielders being under control for a long period of time.  Presley has six years of control remaining, while Tabata is under control for eight more seasons, after signing an extension this year which bought out control of his first three free agent years.

Presley is coming off a year where he hit for a .298 average and an .804 OPS in 215 at-bats.  Tabata hit for a .266 average and a .711 OPS in 334 at-bats, following a season in 2010 when he hit for a .299 average and a .746 OPS in 405 at-bats.  Presley is going to be 26 years old next year, so to expect him to drastically improve on his numbers would be asking a lot.  If he maintains an .800 OPS, that would be ideal.  Tabata, on the other hand, will be 23 next year.  For that reason, he’s a better shot at improving on his numbers going forward.

In the minors the Pirates have a lot of outfield depth throughout the system, although the two standout prospects for the short term are Starling Marte and Robbie Grossman.  Marte just had a huge year in AA, hitting for a .332 average and an .870 OPS.  Grossman had a breakout season in high-A, with a .294 average and an .869 OPS.  He has since carried his hot streak over to the Arizona Fall League, where he has seven homers and an OPS over 1.100 in 100 at-bats.

Marte will be starting off in AAA next year, with Grossman starting off in AA.  Their proximity to the majors, combined with their strong 2011 seasons has people wondering what will happen in the outfield going forward.  The Pirates have three young outfielders in the majors, all with four or more years of control.  So who moves to make room for the prospects?

There are two popular suggestions that have gone around.  The first is to trade Andrew McCutchen and get a huge return.  In theory, that’s not a bad idea.  However, in reality, I don’t see it happening.  I broke down McCutchen’s trade value this past season, and with his years of control remaining, his production, and the strong possibility that he could improve on that production, I’m not sure there’s a team that could provide a return to make the deal worthwhile.  Not to mention, McCutchen is the best player on the team, and is the only position player who looks like he could be a star.  You don’t trade that guy unless you absolutely have to.  You keep the star player, and trade one of the lesser options to make room for the prospects.

The Pirates Can't Trade Jose Tabata

The second suggestion has been to trade Jose Tabata.  A lot of this is probably based on the 2011 numbers, with Presley putting up an OPS that was almost 100 points higher than Tabata’s.  The problem here is that the Pirates can’t trade Tabata.  There are various reasons for this.  One of the big reasons is that it’s way too early to be talking about trading anyone.  Marte and Grossman both had big years, but neither player is knocking on the doors of the majors.  It’s not like when the Pirates traded Nate McLouth and immediately called up McCutchen.  Maybe that will change by June 2012, but a lot of things can happen between now and then which remove any guarantees that a guy like Marte will arrive after two months in AAA.

Another reason you can’t trade Tabata is because you’re selling low.  There are some people who doubt that Tabata can improve on his numbers right now, although that doubt always exists with every player until they actually improve the numbers.  It’s important to note that Tabata is only two months older than Starling Marte, yet Tabata has been in the majors for a year and a half, and Marte has only been as high as AA.  That’s not a knock on Marte, since Tabata arrived at a very young age.  It does show that Tabata’s numbers shouldn’t be written in stone.  As a side note, there will also be people who doubt Tabata’s age.  The “guilty until proven guilty” approach is common with any international prospect these days, but it ignores the fact that the identity issues aren’t really a problem in Tabata’s home country of Venezuela.  If Tabata were from the Dominican Republic, it might be a different story, since that’s where most of the identity issues come from, due to the country’s poor record keeping.

The biggest reason the Pirates can’t trade Tabata is because of his extension.  Tabata’s deal was an extremely team friendly deal.  He will make $1 M or less for the next two years.  After that he will make $11.5 M in what would have been his arbitration years.  Finally he has three options that could amount to buying out his first three free agency years at $22.5 M total.  The buyout for those options are $250 K per year, for a total of $750 K.  If Tabata improves on his current numbers, his contract would be a steal.  If he doesn’t improve on his current numbers, he’s a reasonably paid fourth outfielder, and the Pirates have a cheap escape from his option years.

Tabata signed the deal because he wanted to play in Pittsburgh, which is rare.  It’s doubtful that he would have signed such a team friendly deal for any other team.  It would be a huge slap in the face if the Pirates locked Tabata up on such a team friendly deal, which bought out control of three of his free agent years, then traded him a few months later.  It’s not like when the Pirates signed Nate McLouth to an extension then traded him a few months later.  McLouth’s deal was pretty much the market rate, and wasn’t long term at all, only buying out control of one free agent year, with a price that ended up being way too high for his production.

If the Pirates were to trade Tabata, they could kiss any future extensions goodbye.  Good luck trying to sign Neil Walker to an extension, buying out any free agent years.  Good luck getting McCutchen to give up any free agent years in an extension.  And good luck trying to get anyone to give a home team discount to the Pirates ever again.  The Pirates made a deal with Tabata.  He gave up three free agent years and signed a team friendly deal to stick around in Pittsburgh.  They gave him guaranteed money, and essentially guaranteed that he would stick around in Pittsburgh for awhile.  Trading him away shortly after that deal would essentially break the deal that the two sides had, and would make it impossible for the Pirates to make future deals.

It’s too early to talk about trading any of the outfielders.  Until Marte or Grossman are ready to be called up, we can’t really have that conversation.  When one of those options are ready, a trade isn’t exactly necessary.  It wouldn’t be the worst thing if the Pirates had four outfielders capable of starting, as that would ensure that the Pirates have a strong replacement if someone goes down with an injury.  If the Pirates do make a trade, it can’t be Tabata.  They’ve made the commitment to Tabata with his extension, and trading him so soon after that commitment would do more harm than good.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    Completely agree worse case hes your 4th OF pinch hitter/runner defensive replacement can play CF. Moving Pressly in a deal with some prospects to get a real deal major leaguer is a completely different story

  • Anonymous

    Oh and Tim we gonna get an updated top 10 prospect list before GOldstein or BA come out with theirs

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Our top 10 is finished, but won’t come out until the Prospect Guide comes out.

      I’d imagine a lot of the prospect lists will look the same in spots 1-5. There will probably be some separation in spots 6-10, especially in the last few spots.

  • Anonymous

    Noone should be traded. Lets assume Marte makes it next year that leaves the Pirates with 4 quality outfielders, a major league team typically carries 5 outfielders. Plenty of room for all 4 of them. Having a good player on the bench is not a bad thing.

    It scares me thinking of what the Pirates bench might look like next season I certainly would welcome having a player the quality of Tabata or Presley on it.

  • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

    All of this is assuming, too, that Tabata will improve on his production and Presley will stay productive. There’s no guarantee of either. In a scenario where Starling Marte beats down the door to get to the Majors, and someone like Presley is having the type of year that makes you say “Well, last year was a fluke, he’s clearly a fourth outfielder,” then you don’t have to trade anyone – you call up Marte and make Presley a fourth OF. (That’s not to say that you don’t TRY to trade Presley, but you don’t HAVE to.) The example could also apply to Tabata, but I’d personally like to give him a longer leash for all the reason you mentioned as well as his prospect pedigree.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Vince-Riedy/100002800992567 Vince Riedy

    Another point to be made is having 4 or 5 quality outfielders leaves the possibility of moving one to first base thus solving a need with a long term solution. This would specially work if Grossman and/or Marte power numbers are good.

  • Anonymous

    I like Tabata a lot and understand the PR hit if he is traded, but the improvement of the team comes first, if trading him improves the team, I have to go for it.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      This isn’t thinking long term. Sure, you might improve the team in the short term. But what about long term? You trade Tabata and you hurt any chances of getting someone to sign an extension like that. If they traded Tabata this off-season, why would someone like Walker or McCutchen agree to sign a long term deal? It’s not so much the PR with the fans. It’s the message it sends to the players.

      And really, how are they going to improve the team by trading Tabata? Maybe they fill a hole at another position, but they open a hole in the outfield, and remove a good top of the order hitter. Until Marte or Grossman are ready, they shouldn’t be trading any of their young major league outfielders.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Penn/1826721969 Mark Penn

        They could always shift the extra OF to 1B couldn’t they? I would rather see that than see them throw money at someone whose best days are behind them.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          They could, assuming the first base position isn’t filled by then.

  • Anonymous

    He probably can’t be traded this year but if Grossman and Marte pan out, he could be dealt next year.

    Small market, such as the Pirates can really only have two or three core players, that they can pay market value.  While I like Tabata, I don’t think he is a player to build a team around.  With Alvarez tanking, the Pirates really only have one player who is good enough to be a core player.

    One reason to deal Tabata, aside from what Marte and Grossman do, is what he could bring in return.  If he can be dealt to get young major league ready (top half of the rotation) starting pitching. If he could be included in a deal to get Gio Gonzalez, that kind of deal has to be considered. 

    Another deal would be Tabata for multiple good prospects.  As Time points out, prospects are the life blood of this organization.  If they have Marte, Grossman and Presley pushing forward, getting multiple prospects keeps the pipeline supplied with prospects.

    One reason to make another team overpay for him, is his contract.  It is so absolutely team friendly that any team getting him has to pay for that contractual benefit.

    The only players in this organizations who are currently untouchable or McCutchen, Cole and Taillon. Everyone else has a price.

    • Anonymous

      Your second paragraph is exactly why you don’t trade him. Jose is signed so cheap that he allows you to keep more like 3 or 4 core players and he could easily turn into one himself.

      What about his age 21 and 22 seasons tell you he isn’t good enough to build around?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=578609181 Josh Smith

    I agree with the author on this subject for many different reasons. If you want to resign Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen you need to keep Jose Tabata around. If you trade him not only does it leave a hole in the outfield but it also is a huge PR hit for a team that cannot afford it with the number of losing seasons. Most fans (and players) think that the Pirates are a joke of the MLB because they are not willing to sign players to long term deals and keep them in Pittsburgh for awhile. This mentality makes it extremely difficult to resign up-in-coming players, stars, big names free agents, etc. because the Pirates “trade away all of their good players.” Keeping Tabata around for quite a few years is good for PR to the fans, current players, free agents, and  possible draftees. Plus, as mentioned before, he signed a very team friendly contract. He can be kept around for a total of 9 more years before becoming a free agent. Jose Tabata is only 23 years only and has been in the league for a few seasons in which he has established himself as a legitimate top of the lineup hitter. He has also established himself as a very good base runner and defensive player. He is exactly what the Pirates need to make the lineup work especially with McCutchen, Walker, and possibly Alvarez (assuming he improves) behind him in the lineup pushing him across home plate. I understand where some of you are coming from with the current needs of the Pirates club but trading Tabata would not the the answer for the reasons listed above. He will not break bank at any point in his contract with the club and is a solid option who has not even seen his best days as a Pirate. 

  • http://twitter.com/JohnToperzer John Toperzer

    I don’t see any reason to trade Tabata now, especially because of his low trade value. But his cost certainty boosts his trade value and if that meant getting pitching, I’m all for it. I’m not sold on the age thing either, even Neal Huntington said he might be a couple years older than reported during the last offseason. I love Tabata’s upside, but he’s got an injury-prone frame.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PPT2F2VP6U2ES4NUSWKAF3P73M terry

    I speculated on trading Tabata yesterday. My point was more about filling the empty holes via trade for younger impact players, rather then over the hill free agents. So at this point, who is the trade bate in this organization? Seems too many players are untouchable.

  • Richard Bierer

    I don’t see trading any of the outfielders as a good idea for the next 2-3 years.  Even when Starling Marte is ready for the majors, I think it would be good to keep the personel we have.  Having Marte play center, McCutchen play left, Tabata play right, and keep Presley as a 4th outfielder.  I know this draws the criticism of “Where’s the power?”, but the defense and on-base would be top notch.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=578609181 Josh Smith

      I agree with you that trading any of the young players for a few years is the wrong direction at this point in the development of the organization. The PR hit with fans as well as the players could prove devastating in resigning Neil Walker or Andrew McCutchen to long term deals which needs to happen. Sterling Marte is not ready to be on the major league roster until at least June if not longer. So that leaves the Pirates with an outfield consisting of Presley at LF, McCutchen at CF, and Tabata a RF. While there is not much power coming from this set of starters, aside from McCutchen, they are a solid group in other aspects. Plus many do not think that McCutchen has hit his full potential and very well could be a 30 HR type guy. If they can hold on to these four or add another decent OF they could suffice until someone like Bell could break the major league roster 2-3 years down the road. 

  • http://twitter.com/BuccoMike Mike

    I still think putting a presley, rudy owens, diego moreno package together is way to go for jurrjens and prado is the way to go. Pirates need a guy who has dominated in the nl and jurrjens has and also a guy who will throw probably 190 innings they dont have any and jeff francis is trash unless he signs a 1 or 2 million dollar deal to be the 5 with some incentives.  Chris Capuano is worth bringing in also.

    • http://twitter.com/BuccoMike Mike

      Pedro needs pushed at 3rd. He needs a fire under his ass prado brings that challenge and at worse he got some arb years left and is a good utility guy in which the pirates dont have on the team . Jurrjens the pirates need badly also.

    • Anonymous

      going to take more than that, Braves are asking for Will Myers back from the Royals in a deal for Jurrjens. To get both Prado and Jurrjens for only Presley, Owens and Moreno I highly doubt.