Pirates swindle Yankees

September, 7, 2009
9/07/09
12:28
AM ET
In the Times, Tyler Kepner writes about the Pirates and mostly about Ross Ohlendorf, a smart guy who's going to spend part of his offseason as an intern in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I'm going to write mostly about Jose Tabata, who's going to spend the next six years making the Yankees look might foolish.

But first, Ohlendorf:

    It is heady stuff for Ohlendorf, who will report to work early in the day and do his baseball conditioning later. He has been a find for the Pirates, who acquired him from the Yankees with outfielder Jose Tabata and pitchers Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte in July 2008.

    It was a move that seemed to help the Yankees at the time, boosting their chances in the pennant race. But the Pirates are enjoying the long-term benefits now. Karstens is out with a back injury after going 3-4 with a 5.03 earned run average, but McCutchen made his major league debut in Cincinnati last Monday, allowing three runs on five hits in six innings.

    --snip--

    Once the Yankees' top prospect, Tabata has hit .296 with five homers and a .360 on-base percentage at two levels this season. Just 21 years old, Tabata is starting to tap his potential.

    "I played with him in the minors with the Yankees, and he always had the tools, but he didn't always have the best hustle,” McCutchen said. "He plays hard now. He's faster than I ever thought he was. He's playing really well on defense. With the Yankees, his defense seemed to be average, but he's been great this year, really running balls down. He's played really well.”

    The trade with the Yankees is the type of deal the Pirates have tried to make as they attempt to reverse a losing culture. The Yankees are rolling now, so it is hard to say the deal hurt them. But the Pirates definitely got the better of it, shedding veterans coming to the end of their contracts for young players whose rights they retain for years.

Granted, the equation would look quite a bit different if Marte hadn't fallen apart the moment the Yankees got him, and if Nady hadn't missed most of this season with a serious elbow injury. But even if both players had done exactly what we'd expected -- Marte a serviceable lefty reliever, Nady an average (at best) American League outfielder -- this deal still would have been a steal for the Pirates.

Or it would probably have been a steal, anyway. That's what happens when you trade two marginal veterans for a quartet of talented young players. Ohlendorf's good enough to start for the Yankees, right now. Karstens may yet find himself as a reliever. McCutchen may soon be as good as Ohlendorf. And Tabata ... well, he's the real prize, isn't he?

Between the ages of 16 and 19, Tabata was routinely the youngest player in his league, and he routinely batted .300 (while drawing plenty of walks for a teenager). Everybody said Tabata couldn't miss. Said he was the Yankees' best prospect. Said they wouldn't trade him because he was their center fielder of the future.

And then he got off to a lousy start in Class AA last year. He was still just a teenager, and probably was yet again the youngest player in his league. But he got off to a lousy start, and the Yankees needed Xavier Nady. Well, they didn't need Xavier Nady. Nobody in the history of baseball has needed a player like Xavier Nady. (Not until after the fact, anyway. If the Yankees had qualified for the playoffs last season, afterward it would have seemed like they had indeed needed him.)

So the Yankees essentially traded Jose Tabata, so recently their very best prospect, to the Pirates for Xavier Nady. Someday, historians will read that sentence and snicker.

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