Spring Trade Candidate: Jose Tabata
For the second time this week, we look at an opposing player who could find himself without a spot on his current team’s 25-man roster, yet might still have enough upside to make sense for consideration by the Mets.
After an impressive 2010 campaign, followed by a slightly less inspiring, injury-riddled, but nevertheless sufficient 2011 season, Jose Tabata looked to be, if not a future all-star, certainly an average-above average major leaguer for years to come, with perhaps the potential for more. That was certainly the sentiment of Pirates general manager Neil Huntington, who inked Tabata to a six-year, $15 million dollar extension the following summer.
Unfortunately for Huntington’s job security, Tabata totally hit a wall in 2012, providing below replacement value, culminating in a demotion to AAA in July. Needless to say, Tabata’s awful performance in 2012, combined with his less-than-fundamentally sound style of play and makeup questions dating back to his time as a top prospect with the Yankees, puts him in a precarious position with the Pirates right now, as the newly turned 24 year-old (we’ll get to that later) is out of options, with no clear role on the Pirates.
So, you have a young, right-handed outfielder with some potential, coming off a down year, whose future looks uncertain with his parent club. ‘Low-risk, high-reward!’ says Twitter. A slam-dunk, buy-low candidate if there ever was one, right?
Well not so fast. There are several problems with this assumption. Even if Tabata rebounds from his dreadful 2012 — which is far from a certainty — he’s just not that great of a hitter. In almost 1200 career at-bats, he’s a career .271/.338/.372 hitter with a .317 wOBA. Better than what the Mets have? Sure, but that’s faint praise my friend. That still makes him a below-average-hitting outfielder.
More importantly, however, he doesn’t seem to mesh well with the current makeup of the Mets outfield. Tabata doesn’t have much of a platoon split over his career (.731 OPS. vs lefties, .703 vs righties). That’s a compliment for most players, but in terms of how Tabata fits with the Mets, it’s a drawback. He’s not demonstrably better against right-handers, than guys such as Mike Baxter, Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Heck, he’s probably not even better than Jordany Valdespin. At the same time, he’s also not your prototypical lefty masher in the mold of Scott Hairston, either.
While Tabata’s BABIP (.287) in 2012 was well below his career mark (.315), he’s also heavily relied upon legging out grounders for hits throughout his career (his career GB% is 60.7%). It’s hard to see this changing for Tabata, unless he fundamentally alters his swing mechanics, as his level swing isn’t conducive to much power. This is a problem, as his speed has noticeably declined with age. Looking at him, you wonder if he’s on the verge of eating himself into Delmon Young aesthetics.
His declining speed also raises questions about his defense. It’s difficult to evaluate this statistically, as Tabata hasn’t spent a whole lot of time at any particular outfield position over the last three seasons, and UZR isn’t very insightful in small sample sizes. Generally, it seems as though he was considered an adequate, if not better corner outfielder before 2012, when his declining speed and increased mental lapses became painfully obvious. If you recall, people used to say Angel Pagan was sorely lacking in baseball instincts at one point too, so it’s possible there’s some confirmation bias involved here. Much like his offense, whether Tabata’s 2012 defensive showing is a harbinger of things to come, or just a temporary blip on the screen, remains to be seen.
It’s also worth noting that there seems to be a tacit consensus within baseball’s inner circle that Tabata is well, not 25. And by ‘tacit consensus,’ I mean most people agree with Orlando Hernandez esque certainty that Tabata is completely and utterly full of … yeah. Of course, assuming Tabata isn’t any older than say 30, the dispute over Tabata’s age is splitting hairs; it shouldn’t have any impact on his productivity now, nor in the near future. Just don’t expect him to make him to make any strides in his offensive production because he technically just turned 24 last August.
That being said, let me backtrack a little. Tabata’s young, and he bats right-handed. If the season started today the Mets would probably roll with an all-platoon outfield, and Tabata might prove to be a better option Marlon Byrd, Andrew Brown or Collin Cowgill. At this stage, I’d probably put Tabata at the bottom of that list, but it makes sense to have 4 similarly talented righty hitting outfielders, with 3 potentially making the big league club and one going to AAA. If Neil Huntington is somehow willing to eat almost all of the $12.5 million he’s owed at this point in exchange for a B-grade prospect, it’s something the Mets should seriously consider, but I doubt Huntington is about to sell low. Nor am I sure Tabata is even worth, say, a Darin Gorski or a Cory Mazzoni, or even Cory Vaughn, given the fact he isn’t discernibly better than Byrd or Brown right now, whom the Mets were able to sign essentially for free this off-season.
On the other hand, if, this spring training, Tabata’s conditioning improves, and he looks like the player he was offensively and defensively that he was from 2010-2011, he might be someone worth keeping an eye on as a cheap, two-win, everyday outfielder. Of course, if that’s the case, the Mets won’t be the only ones interested in his services.
Until than, he’s low risk, low reward.