In his first major move since becoming GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates before the season, Neal Huntington sent Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitchers Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, and outfielder Jose Tabata. While the Yankees were able to (somewhat) improve their team while surrendering no integral pieces, the Pirates were able to trade non-core players at the peak of their value and bolster their farm system, signifying that Huntington has a good idea of how to turn his franchise around.
While Xavier Nady is likely having a career season, he remains a productive hitter even if he regresses. That said, he is unlikely to still be around (let alone still be productive) when the Pirates are ready to compete, because Nady is only signed through 2009. Furthermore, his loss will be eased by the fact that top prospect Andrew McCutchen can eventually join
Damaso Marte is an underrated reliever, but relief pitchers are relatively unimportant to a team with no thoughts of contending in the near future – especially relievers as old as Marte, who is 33 years old and signed through 2009. Not that Marte isn’t valuable; rather, his value is higher to a contender than to the Pirates, and therefore it makes sense for
Few people would argue that the Pirates aren’t best served by dealing Nady and Marte. The question is: did they get enough in return?
Even assuming recent draftee Pedro Alvarez signs with the team, the Pirates farm system is relatively barren – despite their spate of recent high draft picks – due to a combination of poor drafting, injuries and bad luck. As such, they will value quantity more than teams with better farm systems. In this deal, the Pirates managed to extract both quantity and quality from the Yankees. Ross Ohlendorf could likely step in to the Pirates rotation right now and be at least somewhat successful. The same holds true for Daniel McCutchen. Both pitchers are almost certainly better than the likes of John Van Benschoten or Yoslan Herrera, for both now and the future.
The key to this trade, in my view, is Jose Tabata. While McCutchen, Ohlendorf, and Karstens could all be major league pitchers, none is likely to be a star. The same cannot be said about Tabata. Tabata has such an extensive history as a prospect that some people may forget that he’s only 19 years old (he’ll turn 20 on August 12). In August of 2007, Tabata hurt his wrist and underwent surgery on the hamate bone, known to sap a hitter’s power in the short-term, even after he returns. Tabata ended the year with an impressive .307/.371/.392 line as an 18-year-old in the Florida State League.
This year, Tabata was suspended for three games in April and disciplined again in May. He is currently batting a paltry .248/.320/.310 in double-A. At the end of June, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wrote that “beyond the poor performance is a swing that no longer looks good, and questions are being asked about his conditioning and makeup.” Certainly, Tabata’s stock has plummeted this season.
While these concerns are legitimate, Jose Tabata is only 19 years old. If he was American, he may very well be a freshman in college, where immaturity is par for the course and nothing to be concerned about. As is, Tabata is an immature kid frustrated with his poor performance, attempting to handle more responsibility and more difficult pitching at double-A than he may be ready for. However, he did hit .307 at age 18 in the Florida State League, and he’s still less than a year removed from wrist surgery. While Jose Tabata represents a fair amount of risk, he also has very high upside and is exactly the type of player the Pirates should be targeting – a guy whose stock is as low as it has ever been, and who is plenty young enough to get back on track.
Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte are luxuries, nice to have if you can afford them but certainly not core players. As such, they are unlikely to bring in any top flight talent along the lines of a Matt LaPorta. The Pirates are in the position where they need quantity almost as much as they need quality, and they received both in this deal. While none of the pitchers are likely to be as good as a Phil Hughes or even an Ian Kennedy, we are talking about three pitchers with an excellent chance of helping a major league roster in each of the next six years; not to mention the fact that McCutchen and Ohlendorf could prove to be above-league-average pieces. Furthermore, despite his problems this year, Jose Tabata is still only 19 years old and thus has plenty of time to figure it out (both on and off the field).
The Pirates were able turn two players who had no future in the organization – and are far from core pieces in any organization – into three pitchers who are likely to help a major league staff and a high risk/high reward 19-year-old in double-A. For the first time in awhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a bright future.