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The cornerstone that wasn’t

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SOUTH HILLS – Remember when Jose Tabata was supposed to be part of the Pirates’ future? The former Yankee farmhand and top 30 overall prospect came over in the Xavier Nady deal in 2009 and was the first player under Neal Huntington – not Andrew McCutchen – signed to an arbitration buyout deal, a six-year, $15 million deal with three club options.

On Tuesday, Tabata – not Travis Snider or Clint Barmes – was somewhat surprisingly out-righted to Triple-A, clearing irrevocable waivers and accepting the minor league assignment.

So what went wrong? And why was it Tabata who was banished?

The trouble started with the Yankees. The following is Tabata’s prospect ranking by year.

Baseball America:

Pre-2007: Rated #27 Prospect
Pre-2008: Rated #37 Prospect
Pre-2009: Rated #75 Prospect

Baseball Prospectus:

Pre-2007: Rated #22 Prospect
Pre-2008: Rated #48 Prospect
Pre-2009: Rated #91 Prospect
Pre-2010: Rated #90 Prospect

You’ll notice that Tabata’s prospect stock was declining year by year. I wonder do prospects who have such trajectories typically fail at a significantly higher rate than prospects who maintain stock? Is there an opportunity to buy low or should such a trend raise major red flags?

Tabata put himself on the prospect map by hitting .298 in Low-A ball in 2006. He hit .306 in the Florida State League the following year but  had a poor start to the 2008 season before being dealt to the Pirates before the tradeline.

So what happened?

The power never showed up. Power is supposed to be the last tool to develop, the Pirates it would, but it never did. Tabata has never posted an isolated slugging mark north of .146 in any minor or major league stop in which he’s played at least 30 games – and his speed declined.

Tabata’s future was always as a corner outfielder and to be an everyday player there he had to hit with more power or be exceptional defensively and/or on the bases. None of these aspects ever developed.

Instead he became a hitter with a .275/.338/.380 slash line over parts of five seasons. That’s not awful but that’s not a line for a first-division corner outfielder, maybe a shortstop.

Prospects don’t always pan out, of course. And Tabata is also a reminder that not every arbitration-buyout deal works out in the club’s favor. (Though it is not a payroll-crippling contract).

What’s also curious is why was it Tabata that was banished?

Tabata has a superior career track record to that of Snider and he’s owned $9 million over the next two years.  Their projections for the rest of 2014 are rather similar. Tabata doesn’t have platoon splits and Snider hasn’t exactly crushed right-handed pitching. Tabata could be a serviceable fourth outfielder.

The Pirates might think Snider is simply the better player with more upside going forward. Snider did beat Tabata out for the job coming of the spring.

Clint Hurdle said it was “strictly” a baseball decision and one that gave the club the chance to be most “competitive.” What was is it they liked so much more about Snider than Tabata that the might be willing to eat $9 million to cover?  I don’t think the Pirates think Tabata can get much better – whether it be tied to physical limitations, aptitude or baseball makeup. They might see more  upside in Snider and they probably prefer his left-handedness.  Still, it’s curious. The Pirates could have been cheap here.

While it was readily apparent before Tuesday, it became official that Tabata is no longer a part of the future plans.

Not every cornerstone fits.

- TS

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Comments

  1. Dcpinpgh says:

    Isn’t not losing an asset a baseball decision?

    Plus, in reality all the pirates are saying is snider is a better 5th outfielder then Tabita. It’s not saying Snider is better then Tabita. It similar to Stewart is a better back up catcher then Sanchez

  2. NorthPirateFan says:

    Any thought TS as to whether the persistent questions about his age played a role in the decision to send him down? It would seem to me that if the Pirates truly believed he was 25 they’d have been more inclined to see growth potential … at 27-29 though that’s likely to be as good as it ever gets.

    I have mixed feelings about the move … vindicated in my belief that Tabata’s career was already on life support and happy to see him go, but at least equally as frustrated in my belief that the biggest obstacle to Snider’s development has been spotty playing time since being obtained in the trade I hoped a little he might get cut free one way or another and land with a team willing to give him the reminder of the season to play full time and see if steady reps would make a difference.

    Pinch hitting is a helluva way for a 26 year old to try and develop his skills.

  3. NMR says:

    Well done, Travis.

    In 2013, 50 outfielders with at least 300 PA had a lower wOBA and wRC+ than Jose Tabata’s career averages of .320 and 102.

    In a league that rewards Nate McLouth and Rajai Davis with $10m contracts, I can’t say I understand the apparent aversion to Tabata. But these things are rarely all they seem to be on the surface. This won’t be the last time we hear of him.

  4. Jim S. says:

    There must be more to this than performance. He is simply a better ballplayer than Travis Snider in my opinion. Snider can’t hit LHP, and he doesn’t even hit RHP very well. Tabata hits them both pretty similary in his career. So, with an already short bench, I envision Hurdle sending Snider up to PH vs a RHP in hopes of getting a favorable match-up, only to have the other manager bring in a LHP. Snider will not be able to handle that nearly as well as Tabata would if a manager switched from a LHP to a RHP when he is PH’ing.

  5. The Gunner says:

    The Pirates will be paying Tabata whether they keep him in the organization or if they find a trading partner. Any new organization will certainly require the Buccos pick up a lot of his salary.

    Tabby certainly cleaned up his act over the last couple years and was a decent 4th OFer. But, he would never be a Bucco regular now that Marte, Cutch & Polanco are in place. (Snider & Lambo are pretty much blocked, too.) However, I am pretty confident Jose will be back with the Bucs sometime during 2014.

  6. Donald says:

    I think this decision came down to simply A) Travis is the only left handed bat on the bench most nights B) he has had some pinch hit home runs. It seems they view Josh Harrison more as the 4th outfielder, so really it came down to who was more valuable in a pinch hit role. Gaby is usually the first right handed bat off the bench, so, when does Tabata ever play if he’s here?

  7. kr70 says:

    they knew he would get through waivers with his contract and also he would accept the demotion because of the same contract.

  8. Bizrow says:

    Moving Tabata was a smart baseball decision.

    The money was already spent. Or committed to

  9. Kyle says:

    Travis,

    Pirates had to pay Snider and Tabata their contracts this season. They haven’t made any sort of an impactful financial decision between the two until Snider is signed for 2015. I don’t see that happening. Right now, Snider works as just a decent left-handed pinch hitter. I would guess he’s released at end of season and Tabata is a backup outfielder in 2015. And some regular playing time in Indy isn’t going to hurt Pirates or Tabata in making that work out better.

  10. deadline says:

    Is it possible that the Pirates put both Snider and Tabata on waivers, someone choose Snider, no one choose Tabata, so by outrighting Tabata they could keep them both???

  11. JoeyBats says:

    The derisive nickname “JOG-ata” sez it all for me …..VERY disappointing experience !
    .
    I think I remember a time when he said he wanted to wear “#21″ to honor “the great one” …..whether it be injuries or poor attitude….he never deserved to be in the same room with Clemente’s picture or baseball card. :-(

  12. Steelkings says:

    In some regards I think its apathy that got Tabata. Tabata seems content to be an average player. Not is ever different. Gaby was that guy too, but he came to camp 25 LBS lighter and in much better shape. The only thing that ever changes with Tabata is Tattoos and Wives.

    The other question remains. Did a simultaneous bell go off in a minor league outfielder and the current left fielders head? “Ding!” Was there a accidental subliminal message being sent to Marte. Maybe, Just Maybe, do to apathy currently hovering in left field, the really dream team of outfielders is Polanco in left, Cutch in center and Bell in right.

  13. Steelkings says:

    Wow, Did I type that? Just awful……More coffee! Lets try that again.

    In some regards I think its apathy that got Tabata. Tabata seems content to be an average player. Nothing is ever different. Gaby was that guy too, but he came to camp 25 LBS lighter and in much better shape. The only thing that ever changes with Tabata is Tattoos and Wives.

    The other question remains. Did a simultaneous bell go off in a minor league outfielder and the current left fielders head? “Ding!” Was there a accidental subliminal message being sent to Marte. Maybe, Just Maybe, due to apathy currently hovering in left field, the real dream team of outfielders is Polanco in left, Cutch in center and Bell in right.

    Sheesh!

  14. The Gunner says:

    Joey

    When Tabby said he wanted to wear #21 and then he proceeded to get fat, not hustle & become a problem, I really started to dislike him. However, in his defense, he has cleaned up his act as of late and is now a serviceable 4th OFer.

    He might be back up with the Bucs if there is an OFer goes on the DL. But, the only way the BMTIB will be able to unload him is if they pick up a good portion of his salary. No team in their right mind will take on that contract. Based on that, Tabata will probably be a Bucco farmhand for a long time.

  15. Jim S. says:

    Bingo.

  16. Jim S. says:

    I get everyone’s comments about how Tabata has had times over the past few years where he did not act maturely, and he was even sent to Indy for that. He has also not performed well enough to merit a starting position now. I get all that, and I don’t dispute any of it. The guy has never fulfilled his promise.

    But, he hit pretty darn well down the stretch last year. Snider has not done anything well for this team for more than a couple of days at a time that I can recall. I want someone to name any particular skill that actually takes place on a baseball field that Snider does at the level of an average MLB player.

    Snider is a Buc, and he seems like a great guy. So, I’m rooting for him. But, I really have not seen much of anything that tells me he is a better PH option than Tabata vs. RHP or LHP. Is this all about him being liked in the clubhouse more?

  17. LeeFoo says:

    They couldn’t trade Tabby, so they knew he would get thru waivers.

    They also knew that Travis, in all likelihood, would get claimed.

    Plus Tabby appears to be a head case and Travis appears to be a great guy everybody likes. Don’t discount that part, either. Unless you’re a star, head cases don’t last long.

    Easy choice.

  18. NMR says:

    This always cracks me up.

    Guys on the internet who’ve never met a single Pittsburgh Pirate claiming to know who the team likes better.

  19. Andrew says:

    I think that is debatable, if a team wants a replacement level outfielder they can just promote someone from AAA, without having to pay the remaining $1.2 million of Snider’s salary. But maybe they have a copy 2009 Baseball American on the desk and jump at the opportunity, or more plausibly Snider elects for free agency.

    This isn’t about trying to keep as many replacement level middle relievers as possible, the Pirates have to pay both, you keep the better player. Obviously the impact isn’t big and the Pirates think that the better player is Snider fine, but from an outside perspective I think that is also debatable.

  20. The Gunner says:

    About the only things Snider offers is he provides more pop off the bench as compared to Tabata, he is probably younger, and his salary is lower. And, I am sure he is a better clubhouse fit personality wise for whatever that is worth.

    Tabata never lived up to his potential, plain & simple. But, I believe he has gotten past his early problems in the last couple years – he is a decent 4th OFer. Tabby will probably be back up here if there is an injury & he’ll get thru waivers again when they need to sent him back to Indy.

  21. NMR says:

    Stunning to me how many old white guys seem convinced that Snider is the better clubhouse fit.

    What year is it?

  22. NorthPirateFan says:

    “Snider has not done anything well for this team for more than a couple of days at a time that I can recall”

    Snider also hasn’t gotten regular playing time for more than a couple of days at time since being acquired either and that’s a big part of the problem.

    Despite having “won the starting right field” job the last two seasons Snider has watched just about everyone from Josh Harrison, Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones get more starts at the position than he has. Russell Martin even got a start there ahead of Snider. Last season it was later claimed to be the result of injuries, so what’s the excuse this year?

    If nothing more than the left handed part of a platoon Snider would have reasonably expected to get 62 starts in the Pirates 76 games thus far, or more given the dearth if LHP the Pirates have faced, but he’s only gotten 26.

    Snider may never be a star but one thing thing is absolutely certain in that the biggest obstacle to his development and anyone ever knowing what he’s capable of is is the lack of consistent playing time which is only going to decrease with Polanco now up.

    Fortunately for Snider he’s of an age where he can get free from Clint Hurdle and still have an opportunity to catch on elsewhere.

  23. Steelkings says:

    Tabata goes and Snider stays? You guys think thats not fair?

    FAIR? Who cares about fair? The world isn’t fair. Truth is fair. Is it fair that Tabata was born like that? NO! They’re not expecting somebody like you in there, Snider. They’re expected one of these slugs. Snider is different. He’s weird. He’s a mutant. He’s a killer. He’s a trained baseball killer. Snider’s a LEAN… MEAN… FIGHTING… MACHINE!

  24. NorthPirateFan says:

    Didn’t you just snicker just recently about the favorable treatment Neil Walker, the local white boy, compared to that which Ike Davis gets?

    The more logical reason for the assumption is the negative impression Tabata created for himself in the past with his off and on field antics that rubbed everyone, players, fans and media alike, the wrong way and nothing to do with race.

    Has he moved beyond some of that, sure. Is it then a foregone conclusion that he’s now one of the “good guys,” hardly. As matter of his personality Tabata is always going to be viewed negatively to one degree or another and that is of his own doing.

  25. Steelkings says:

    Travis? Whats this about? Any incite?

    From Roto
    Wandy Rodriguez underwent season-ending surgery on his right knee Wednesday.
    And now we know why Rodriguez has been a free agent for a month now without a whiff of interest. It’s not clear what exact procedure was performed, but Rodriguez will need 5-6 months of rehab and hopes to be 100 percent for spring training in 2015. The veteran left-hander posted a 6.75 ERA and 1.69 WHIP over 26 2/3 innings this season for the Pirates before being released.

  26. NMR says:

    That’s how you justify it to yourself, huh?

  27. Arriba Wilver says:

    Sorry, man, that’s a really obnoxious point of view with no evidence in this case . It does fit into a political point of view, though, and has the advantage of not using any empirical evidence, other than a historical bias.

    Does Fangraphs support that?

  28. Jordan White says:

    Dude, for someone as smart as you, you seem to bring up “old white guy” a lot. What’s up with that? (Other noted time you referenced it was discussing soccer)

    Tabby has well documented hustle issues in his past. While it probably hasn’t been relevant to his performance over the past 1.5 years, I don’t think it’s crazy for people to note that baggage when a potentially questionable decision (i.e. sending Tabata to the minors and keeping Snider up) has been made.

  29. Jordan White says:

    And I say “for someone as smart as you” because a) your posts are usually very well thought out with good evidence to support your position and b) making the leap from “someone is making a statement that doesn’t seem relevant anymore” to “that means that there must be an element of racism to it” is an illogical leap.

    Do you notice a pattern from the same people making the same comments about the same type of people or something? If you’re going to insinuate that somebody is racist, you should list the prior incidents to support your claim, or else your just slandering them. That’s not fair.

  30. The Gunner says:

    That comment was really unnecessary, NMR.

  31. dennis g says:

    If there was ever a player who merited being given a shot based on minor league performance then Travis Snider is the guy. Just at AAA over five seasons 728 AB’s, 33 HR’s and 160 RBI’s. Along with .334/.421/.556/.968. No he is not Babe Ruth or Miguel Cabrera, but he outhustles Jose Tabata at every opportunity. They are not the same type of player. Neither is particularly fast but at least Snider has the sense to stop trying to steal bases. In about 1500 AB’s Snider had 19 GIDP’s, Tabata has 37 in 1522 or nearly twice as many, especially awful considering he was advertised as a five tool player, which to me is a much more egregious example of puffery than is “dripping with power.” Both players are victims to some extent of the Pirate publicity/duplicity machine, but for Snider there is hope and for Tabata maybe a callback from the Yankees in September?

  32. dennis g says:

    It’s stunning to me how you draw conclusions about the age and race of bloggers and at the same time are able to remember who wrote what about which over time. I think people have an adequate supply about Jose Tabata on which to make some assumptions. Assumptions, opinion and speculation are all anyone has to go on. There is ample evidence that Tabata is what in earlier times would be referred to as a “flake.” There is no information about Snider other than the party he threw for his teammates in Seattle. Please advise if you know more. Enlighten us. We welcome your expertise in guiding us on our travels into the 21st century and beyond

  33. dennis g says:

    Authentic frontier gibberish? Or “insight?”

  34. Andrew says:

    Snider played in the PCL, a league with a parks at elevations that inflate power numbers. League average OPS in the PCL ranges from 770-800 compared to 715-730 in the International league.

    Snider has amassed 0.6 WAR in 1506 PAs, his development has been hampered by wrist injuries, but most of all just poor performance. He hasn’t been a league average hitter in any stretch since 2010, in 2012 he lost a position battle for LF to Eric Thames. In his over 500 PAs with the Pirates he hit .228/.301/.337 for a 79 wRC+.

    Why should a player get more playing time if he is poor in the time he is given?

    Tabata’s GIDPs have nothing to do with his lack of hustle, the reason is when Tabata pulls the ball he pounds into the ground at 80% rate, he is a limited hitter that need to spray the ball the other way.

  35. jay says:

    All right the Irish can stay too…Blazing Saddles

  36. Steelkings says:

    Really? Nice job keeping it going old white guy.

  37. Steelkings says:

    How bout Tabata is just another yawner of a player who will fit in well with the city of indy?

  38. The Gunner says:

    And to think, all of this old guy/young guy BS over the 25th guy on the roster. It’s pretty damn ridiculous. Have a great day, Steel!

  39. Jim S. says:

    Well, I’d say there’s a reason everyone keeps getting extended opportunities instead of Snider. I still want to hear someone tell me what it is that he does at even an average level for a MLB player.

 
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