Sunday, July 27, 2008

Trade Speculator - Yankees & Pirates

According to Baseball Digest Daily, the Yankees have agreed to send Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Phil Coke, and George Kontos to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. It is sounding as if the non-waiver deadline is going to be a busy one. Although many of the big names reported to be on the block have moved, it sounds as if a lot of teams are not done shopping.

Update - Coke and Kontos have been removed from this deal in favor of Jeff Karstens and Dan McCutchen. This hurts the package the Pirates received. Both Coke and Kontos were pitchers worth getting excited about.

The Yankees brought in two pieces that will help them for the 2008 season adding veteran players to replace some of the youth and inexperience the club had. Not knowing where Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui will slot into the Yankees lineup down the stretch, or if they will, the Yankees felt the need to chase after one of the most highly sought after bats.

Xavier Nady has had an outstanding season. Forever being a player of promise, the 29 year old outfielder has put it altogether this season in a statistically legitimate season. Two major things have led to the renaissance season of Nady are his strikeout and line drive rates. Owning the lowest strikeout rate of his career, Nady is making more frequent contact-never a bad thing. In addition to this, Nady has line drive rate go up a second straight season to an outstandingly high 26.5%. Solid contact rate leads to solid contact which invariably helps a hitter reach base safely.

The second player, Damaso Marte, is a veteran left handed pitcher with an affordable contract. Marte was a highly sought after pitcher in recent weeks, the Yankees will presumably use him more as a situational lefty-the only lefty in their bullpen. Marte is a strong arm and should only add to the bullpen.

According to Ken Rosenthal, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman had been talking to Pittsburgh about Marte for a few days prior to the trade. It was only on Friday when Nagy entered the discussions. I wonder what the trade looked like prior to that?

In exchange for Nady and Marte, the Pirates brought in four prospects, only one of whom had any value prior to the start of the season. It does appear as though Neil Huntington has a plan, so it doesn't come as much of a surprise that he chose players that are further along in development over players with slightly higher ceilings.

Beginning with Ross Ohlendorf, the Pirates received a pitcher whom they can immediately use out of the bullpen, if they so choose. Ohlendorf is going to be 26 in a little over a week, and the right handed pitcher needs to find his spot in the majors soon. Armed with a hard fastball that averages 93mph, Ohlendorf compliments this pitch with a slider he isn't afraid to use. His long term projection sees him as a reliever, hopefully that helps him remain healthy.

As a key piece of the trade which sent Randy Johnson to the Diamondbacks, Ohlendorf has regularly shown up on John Sickels prospect rankings, sitting as a C+ prospect. Nothing overly exciting.

Daniel McCutchen is another soon to be 26 year old with limited upside. He is right handed and is capable of eating innings. It sounds as if he too is seen as a long term reliever. Armed with a low 90s fastball, a splitter, and a good curve, his progress through the minor leagues have been impressive due to his pro career beginning 3 years ago.

Another, not overly impressive player, fellow 'soon to be' 26 year old Jeff Karstens. The right hander was given a shot at helping the Yankees rotation last season, and failed in his three starts. The Yankees then used him out of the bullpen where he was equally as bad. 2008 represents the third season in which Karstens has pitched at triple A.

Karstens appeared on Sickels' 2007 Yankees prospect list as a 'just missed'. Not a good sign for an organization that had two C level prospects make the cut. In other words, we're not talking much of anything here.

The final player, and truly the only player the Pirates were truly interested in, Jose Tabata. The 2008 season has been one in which has seen Tabata's stock drop. He was rated by many as a top 50 prospect overall, a rating which was more reflective of his age then performance. I had rated Tabata in my top 10, citing that the Yankees would treat him properly.

While I may have been mistaken in suggesting the Yankees have treated him properly, the organization certainly has not hurt the kid. At age 19 he is more then holding his own in double A. To date, Tabata has shown an excellent approach at the plate, although his power has yet to develop.

John Sickels has rated Tabata as high as an A-, and most recently saw him as a B+ prospect. Much of this is due to Tabata's inability to display power as he moves through the minors. Sickels, however, comments that Tabata has an advanced feel for the strike zone, something that I view as being more important then showing early power-see Brandon Wood.

When comparing Tabata with the Mets young outfield prospect, Sickels suggested that both will be 'stars', although he does not comment on the extent of stardom for each player. One thing that worries Sickels is Tabata's size, which does not help his power projection.

Additionally, there have been recent concerns regarding Tabata's conditioning and makeup. While it wouldn't surprise me if Tabata was intentionally bulking up, the concerns about his makeup raise red flags. Although at 19 years old, I am willing to give him a pass on that.

According to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, Tabata's swing-the same one that generated concern regarding power potential-looks even worse this season and is a legitimate cause for concern.

Enough of the negative, Kevin Goldstein had the following to say about Tabata entering this season, while rating him as a 4 star prospect:
The Good: Tabata is a gifted hitter with outstanding bat speed and hand-eye coordination, showing the ability to hit any pitch, anywhere, from both lefties and righties. He’s an average runner and a good right fielder with the arm strength for the position. He plays under control and with a confidence far beyond his years.
In addition to this, it sounds as if Tabata can be a more then adequate right fielder, posing decent speed and a strong arm.

At the beginning of this season, I called for Tabata to be a future Bobby Abreu. I liked the way Tabata could take a walk at such a young age, while keeping his strikeouts down. However, his power looks very limited, and we are presumably looking at a hitter with under 20 home runs and a sub .420 slugging percentage. That said, I think Xavier Nady and Andre Ethier pose as superior comparables.

Had this trade been made in March, April, or even early May, the Pirates would have went down as the undeniable winners. While acquiring Tabata is a very nice piece, and projecting exactly what type of hitter he will become is very difficult at this point, his stock has taken such a hit, that it is interesting to see him as the cornerstone of any trade. An outfield of Tabata and Andrew McCutchen should be nice to build around, however lacking legitimate power.

The three pitchers the Pirates acquired are at a 'take or leave' level. One would almost think that there are equal to better pitchers that pass through waivers, get non-tendered, etc. This trade then, was entirely about Tabata, and making room for the future in Pittsburgh. Hitters such as Steve Pearce (called up) and the aforementioned McCutchen.

The Yankees are the winners of this deal. Cashman filled two holes on the roster with cheap and established players. While Tabata should turn into a regular, a quality one at that, he probably isn't a player that the Yankees will look back at and regret not holding onto. Additionally, Nady and Marte are players whom the Yankees will look back on and recognize how much they brought to the club for the stretch run.

This trade, coupled with the Rauch trade a few days earlier, signals the end of the 'sellers' market and transfers the trade deadline to a 'buyers' market. That is, a buyer can now send one prospect of worth and some throw-ins for two cheap and solid players.

BallHype: hype it up!

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