Past Trade Review: Jose Tabata

Taking a hit from the objective pipe
Yankees designate Aaron Laffey for assignment
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There was a time, during RAB’s halcyon days, when Jose Tabata invited encouraging comparisons. The name Manny Ramirez appeared frequently, which left Yankees fans salivating. Even better, when Baseball America rated him the Yankees’ No. 2 and the No. 27 overall prospect in 2007, they said that he “has the talent to reach New York by the end of 2008.”

By the end of 2008 not only was Tabata not in the majors, but he wasn’t even in the Yankees system. On July 25th, 2008, when they sat three games back of first and were starting a series against Boston, they pulled off a major trade in which Tabata was the centerpiece. They sent him, along with Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, and Ross Ohlendorf to the Pirates in exchange for Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady. In Marte they got a lefty reliever — one whom they once traded for Enrique Wilson — and a right-handed outfielder in the midst of a career year. The Yankees certainly needed the help that Marte and Nady could provide, but losing Tabata still stung a little.

While Tabata possessed plenty of upside, his attitude and antics certainly soured the Yankees. After all, the same Baseball America scouting report that glowed about his “innate ability to get the fat part of the bat to the ball quickly, consistently, and with power,” also said that the “tends to cost and turn his talent on and off.” He stormed out of one game and considered quitting. That doesn’t even touch on his decades-older wife, who was accused of kidnapping a baby. In 2008 all that appeared to catch up to him, and he sported a mere .248/.320/.310 line in AA prior to the trade. The Yankees’ patience, apparently, wore thin.

Even with the reinforcements the Yankees couldn’t overcome their depleting pitching staff. At that point Chien-Ming Wang was already done for the year, and Joba Chamberlain had just a few starts remaining before he, too, would go on the DL. Marte pitched well at first, but after a long outing in Texas (I believe on the same day Joba got hurt) he was apparently gassed. Nady stumbled in his new digs. It amounted to a 32-28 record post-trade, which was actually worse than their pre-trade record. The Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. The only bright side was that they had Nady and Marte for at least one more season each.

With Nady, they ended up with essentially nothing. The Yankees named him the starting right fielder in 2009, despite Nick Swisher‘s presence on the roster, but he suffered an elbow injury a few games into the season and didn’t play another one until 2010 with the Cubs. His time with the Yankees amounted to 0.6 WAR. Instead of exercising Marte’s $6 million option for 2009, the Yankees signed him to a three-year, $12 million contract. He’s spent most of it on the DL, though he did come through in the 2009 World Series. The only way the Yankees won this deal was with the old saying, flags fly forever. (Though I suppose that assumes that the Yankees would not have won the series without Marte, which is debatable, to say the least.)

Karstens, McCutchen, and Ohlendorf were mere afterthoughts in the trade. Ohlendorf broke camp with the 2008 team as a reliever, though his role was never clear. Whether that made him seem worse I’m not sure, but it’s impossible to define his stint with the big league club as successful. He might have helped in the future, but the Yankees had plenty of other mid-range pitching prospects. The same goes for Karstens and McCutchen. Both had their bright spots, but both were fungible assets. There was little to argue about when trading them, and even using hindsight, with Karstens experiencing some success this year, it’s hard to find fault with trading these guys. It was actually a Yankees fan’s dream: trading middling non-prospects for actual major leaguers.

Tabata, on the other hand, represented someone the Yankees could actually use. The system has lacked power corner OF bats since RAB started in 2007, and Tabata was the one guy who could have grown into that type of player. But given all his issues both on and off the field, they apparently thought he wasn’t the best fit. And despite all the hype, he has never hit for power — not in any stop in the minors in which he had more than 100 AB, and not in the majors.

The lack of power brings up an important question when evaluating the Tabata trade: where would he have played? Even if the Yankees were a bit aggressive with him, as the Pirates were last year, where would he have fit? Last year Brett Gardner was working on a breakout year, and the Yankees had Nick Swisher manning right field. From 2010 to 2011 Nick Swisher has produced a .367 wOBA and Gardner has produced .351 (9th and 20th among qualified MLB OFers). Tabata, meanwhile, has produced a .332 wOBA, and that’s pretty evenly divided between his two seasons. (It would rank 40th if he were qualified.)

It was impossible to know at the time, of course, that the Yankees would acquire Swisher and develop Gardner into a borderline elite player, so all of that represents hindsight evaluation in one way. But in another it represents a legitimate viewpoint, since Tabata wouldn’t have been ready for the majors until the Yankees started to see what they had in those two players. Even if he miraculously broke out in 2009 the Yanks wouldn’t have had room for him.

This weekend Tabata was rewarded for his 3.5 career WAR, and his potential for more, with a five-year extension worth a guaranteed $14.25 million that could end up a eight-year, $36.75 million deal. With the Yankees he never would have gotten that opportunity. With Gardner and Swisher taking over the outfield corners in the past two years, he would have remained blocked. That could have worked out if he turned things around in the Yanks system; they could have traded him this past winter, perhaps for a starting pitcher. But if he continued to falter they would have gotten even less. The Yanks apparently saw that risk ahead of time and dealt him while at least one team still valued him.

The hardest part of reconciling these past trades is figuring out how the Yankees would have fared had they not made the trade. It’s especially tough in this situation, when they got so little value for the return, but also wouldn’t have had room for the centerpiece. While it was a clear loss for the Yankees — they gave up something of value to another team and got little value back — the real-world effect isn’t that great. It would have taken a big turnaround from the disappointing Tabata in order for the Yankees to realize any value from him in the future.

Taking a hit from the objective pipe
Yankees designate Aaron Laffey for assignment
  • jay destro

    should of kept

    • Ed PDX

      Joe – Why no mention of McCutchen … He was the key loss out of this deal Tabata is a dud.

  • Mike Myers

    Didnt it come out that he was 2 years older than they thought like 6 months post trade?

    • CP

      I thought it was 3 or 4 year, not two.

      And the Pirates immediately said that they had no concerns about his age – which is the surest sign that he’s really older than he claims to be.

      • MikeD

        I believe he might be 36 and already into his decline phase!

        It seems accepted (even by the Pirates, at least as recently as last year) that Tabata is older than his reported age, but his published age never changes. So who knows.

    • vin

      Don’t recall, but that happened with the Soriano – A-Rod trade.

  • jsbrendog

    knowing what they knew then i still make this trade 8 times out of 10.

    knowing what we know now i could care less whether they made it or not cause it doesn’t really matter either way because gardner/swisher>>>>>>>>>>>>tabata

    • A.D.

      Agreed, I mean yes it didn’t work out for the Yankees due to injuries, but at the time the Pirates were getting no guarantees

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      But, on the other hand, had they held onto Tabata, perhaps he would have fetched a better return in a later trade.

      I’m not sure how much that plays into this analysis, but you have to at least consider it. It’s not only about whether he’d be playing over Swisher/Gardner.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        And now I see Fallen Phoenix already mentioned this concept, below. My bad, didn’t read the whole thread before commenting.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          You were obviously too busy eating to read.

  • The Fallen Phoenix

    There’s also the possibility that the Yankees kept Tabata and included him in a different trade – perhaps if he regained his prospect luster in the Yankees system, he’d have become an attractive enough commodity to fill another need down the line.

    All-things-considered, though, even if the trade counts as a technical “loss” (in that the Yankees are on the wrong side of the value ledger), Joe’s right to point out there doesn’t seem to have been any lasting negative repercussions. Just plenty of counter-factual speculation.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    He stormed out of one game and considered quitting.

    What an asshole.

    Carlos Zambrano

    • jsbrendog

      someone should have questioned his desire and punched him in the dugout

      carlos zambrano

  • Jerome S.

    Pretty weird deal for the Pirates, IMO.

    • A.D.

      Interesting to buy out all arb years and options on 3 FA seasons when the guy has ~1 season worth of-at bats, and while he has been a top prospect, isn’t necessarily in the Evan Longoria can’t miss zone

      • jsbrendog

        but isnt it TOTAL ~14 mil for all 6 of those years? if he doesnt pan out thats not a serious chunk of change andif he does it is an absolute STEAL! even if he does reach the incentives to make it ~80 mil

        • A.D.

          True his arb years are bought out on the cheap compared to potential talent, but the team only spends some 40M on payroll as it stands, so if he does flame out and assuming not a major team payroll change in 5 years, Tabata could represent 5-10% of team payroll (even though its only 4.5M)

          So yes team friendly, but for such a small budget team seems a bit odd for a player where there seems to still be a ton of risk

          • jsbrendog

            but they’re not going to be low budget small market. they have the money i believe and once they have that young infrastructure i think they’ll take it a step further than the rays and spend a bit. they have a great ballpark which, as we’ve seen, will be filled if they compete, and new management who seems to bne doing it the right way

            • A.D.

              Yeah if this is part of a payroll increase than makes even more sense, I just don’t know if they can be a Twins-esque team that does have money in their pockets to spend, and just don’t currently

              • Davor

                Pirates spend so little because they have noone to spend it on, they have traded veterans away, not because they were expensive (like Florida does), but because they mostly weren’t that good, and they got some prospects. They can easily support 60-70M payroll, maybe more, and they plan to do it once their prospects stop being cost-controlled.

  • A.D.

    Figure if they don’t do the Marte/Nady trade figure either:
    A. Granderson deal doesn’t happen
    B. Swisher deal doesn’t happen
    C. Some other deal does happen

    I would guess Swish deal happens since 1. it was a buy low 2. He still could have been the starting 1B, 3. Tabata probably not ready yet.

    So more likely they never deal for Grandyman and/or someone gets included in the Lee deal last year or something similar.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I wonder, if Tabata was still in the system in the winter of ’08-’09, perhaps he’s used as trade bait for a second starter instead of AJ Burnett.

      Not sure who that starter would be, though. Probably moot, since the F.O. had a hardon for Burnett due to his SSS mastery of the New York and Boston while a Blue Jay.

      • A.D.

        Maybe contenders for the original 2009 Cliff Lee deal to the Phils

    • Sayid J.

      Or perhaps the Granderson trade is made for Tabata rather than Austin Jackson. Possibilities are endless.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        That too, although I bet the Tigers would still pick AJax over Tabata, especially one year later into their respective developments.

    • Thomas

      I don’t know if they pass on the Granderson trade.

      First, Tabata didn’t make the majors until midseason 2010 (and while Austin Jackson was the Tigers opening day CF, most people think he would have started the season in AAA if he was on the Yankees in 2010). Thus, the Yankees wouldn’t have had only Swisher and Gardner in their opening day OF. The Yanks would have had to have kept Melky (possible) or Damon (couldn’t field and the Yanks wanted him only as a DH) or add another OF with the likely choice being Holiday (who certainly wouldn’t be replaced by Tabata or Jackson).

      Also, while Gardner is certainly a very valuable player for the Yankees both offensively and defensively and both Jackson and Tabata have been good, all three are speedy, slap hitters. I don’t know if the Yankees would really want with two hitters with little power in the lineup, let alone the same OF.

      Personally, I really can’t see keeping Tabata changing anything in the Yankees OF plan.

  • pat

    Only 12 more strikeouts than walks at the mlb level as a 22 year old. That’s pretty nice.

  • O Coelho

    What this demonstrates to me is how consistently wrong Baseball America is in evaluating young talent. I bet you could throw darts at a list of minor league players and come close or exceed the “rankings” produced by the vastly overrated dweebs at BA.

    • MattG

      That’s odd, I was recently marveling at how accurate a lot of BA’s reports from 3-4 years ago turned out to be. Yes, their projections are most often wrong, but they really do nail the pros and cons of the prospects, and keep them updated throughout their minor league careers. Even if they call someone a star in 2007, they’ll be among the first to call them a bust in 2008, tell you exactly why, and then use that as a cautionary tale in the analysis of other players.

    • MikeD

      Ummm, no. Certainly the further away from the majors the prospect (meaning lower in the minors) the more room for error, yet BA’s top prospects on average generate a way higher WAR value than lower ones. A dart board approach would do quite poor. Even Tabata is delivering value on the MLB level, just not as much (yet) as originally projected.

      The Yankees moved both Tabata and Austin Jackson because they didn’t think their power would evolve, lowering their value. They obviously got quite a bit of value back for Jackson and IPK, but not so for Tabata.

  • Stuckey

    Some trades work out, some don’t

    Film at 11.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Your blog sounds awesome. When can we read it?

  • MattG

    Middle reliever and a corner outfielder having his first taste of real success. Those things never work out.

    Bunch of justaguys and a flailing prospect with questionable makeup. Those things never work out.

    Why did this trade make headline again?

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      It’s simultaneously a win-win and a lose-lose trade. Fantastic.

    • jsbrendog


  • MannyGeee

    wow, traded 2 future starters and a prospect with attitude problems for some ‘help now’ guys? AND McCUTCHEN!!!!! OFF WITH CASHMAN’S HEAD!

    oh wait, those two starters are starters in the NL Central? and the McCutchen was Daniel and not Andrew?

    well, thems the breaks. TBH, Tabata is a guy I do not really miss. the OF is a position of strength on this team currently, so it is what it is.

    • Tom Zig

      time will tell

    • bonestock94

      Agreed, Tabata isn’t good enough (now) to supplant any of the current outfielders.

  • MikeD

    The main value in keeping Tabata would have been to flip him for another, better piece. Overall it was a trade that didn’t work that well for the Yankees, minus a brief but important flash of brilliance from Marte in the World Series.

    Yet, it’s unclear if it matters. The Yankees came to believe that Tabata, for all his skill, would never amount to the power corner bat they craved. He barely had a .400 SLG in the minors, hitting all of ten HRs in more than 2,000 PAs. So far in the majors, he has a sub .400 SLG with all of eight HRs. He’s never reached double-digit HRs at any level, and already 23, and most likely 24 or 25 if reports are true.

    He wouldn’t replace any of the Yankees current OFers, but looks like the Yankees sold low. No great loss, though, unless Tabata really steps it up in the next year or two.

  • steve (different one)

    This is how I like to think about it when people complain about this trade:

    Just pretend Tabata was traded for Swisher and Betemit for Nady.

    Exact same result but we all feel a lot better now, right?

  • Cuso

    Totally fine with the trade.

    Nady did OK in ’08 even though it amounted to nothing. Marte was big in the WS even though we’ve gotten nothing from him since.

    But the point that plays the most is that Tabata, Ohlendorf, McCutchen & Karstens wouldn’t be the players that they are now if they were still in the Yanks organization.

    If they stayed, they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow.

    I’m fine with them on the Pirates. I don’t get the sense that any one of them will haunt us any time soon. And it’s good to see them get the oppotunity that they wouldn’t have ptherwise had in NY. t

  • cranky

    Tabata looks like a good young player. But that’s all.
    Might he become a regular .300 hitter?
    Yes, he’s got that kind of talent. And, well, he nearly hit .300 last year.
    But he’s never shown any kind of power.
    Brett Gardner has hit more homeruns over the past two years than Jose Tabata.
    (That’s worth repeating. But I won’t.)

    If Tabata had remained with the Yankees, he might be starting in LF for them. He might’ve beaten out Brett Gardner for the starting job. But he might not have. Gardner’s a better defensive player, steals quite a few more bases, and gets on base just as much.

    I think the best point made in this story is that ALL of the prospects the Pirates received in the deal are having viable ML careers. Like Tabata, Ohlendorf’s been hurt a lot. But healthy, he’s had two decent years on the mound. Karstens may be having a career year in 2011, but he’s been very, very good this season and is now probably viewed as a mainstay in the Bucs’ rotation. And Daniel McCutchen has been very good in the bullpen.

    I think it’s pretty rare that any team trades four prospects and they all make it in the majors.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    A lose-lose, or win-win.

    So is this trade a “meh-meh”?

    Tabata’s not better than any of the 3 OF we have now, and the 3 OF’s are in prime years or just under them.

    Maybe Tabata would’ve gotten himself together, and then got traded for something else. We’ll never know.

    So in essence we traded a bunch of #8 starters and a fourth OF for Marte’s outs and a WS trophy.

    Works for me.

  • Davor

    I thought at time that Tabata has to go to another organization, that he can’t recover with Yankees. I doubt he would have had better status as a prospect after the season. So, they traded someone who was of greater value to the other party than he could have been for them (even as future trade bait).

  • Davor

    Important aspect of this trade is that it helped reestablish Yankee prospects as viable trade candidates. In late 90s and early 00s plenty of Yankee prospects were highly touted, but did nothing for their new teams and everyone started saying that Yankee prospects were overvalued. Now Yankees have traded away MLB starting CF and RF, one mid-to-top of the rotation starter and several back of the rotation starters, but capable MLB players, and one closer. All of them have met reasonable expectations, maybe even exceeded them. Then there are Melky, Viscaino, Clippard. Opposing GMs can have confidence again that Yankee prospects won’t systematically underperform their status. That should help in future trades.

  • Dicka24

    I would like to think the Yankees look at some of these pre arb deals that young players sign, and would look to lock up a Gardner, Hughes, and maybe Nova to similar type contracts. It only serves the teams best interests to do so. Why not lock up Gardner now? Sure the Yankees can afford to wait for players and sign them later, but it’s somewhat foolish to do so with some guys. Cano’s one of the only guys I remember the Yankees locking up early in recent memory. Maybe I’m missing someone though. Tabata’s deal is terrific for the Pirates. Even if Tabata is mediocre, that $2+ million per year average is borderline 4th outfielder money for some clubs, or easy to eat over it’s term if he outright sucks.