Based upon the staggering number of responses I’ve received to my most recent post about the Pirates, I’m thinking of re-naming jeffpearlman.com piratereport.com. Unfortunately, that’d decrease my readership (hanging strong at about 2,000 per day) to, oh, 150 clicks. Maybe 155 if the Pirates win two straight.
Ah, I kid. I’ve enjoyed receiving so many Pirate-related comments, and very much dig the passion. I don’t even take offense to people like “B” (“Youâ€™re far too generous and immodest calling that a ‘mediocre column’ Free Tank had you pegged”) and “W.K. Kortas” (“Did you mail in the SI column? Absolutely.”). If you write sports in the 21st century, you accept that you’ll get hammered. And hammered. And hammered. When you’re right. When you’re wrong. When you’re off. When you’re on. Whenever.
All that being said, I want to make a point that I consider, without question, indisputable: Pittsburgh’s July 26, 2008 trade of Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees for Daniel McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf was absolutely, positively terrible. A horrible swap for the Pirates, sans debate.
The Pittsburgh loyalistâ€”an odd breed who gets punched in the head repeatedly (by his loved one, no less) while screaming, “More! More! More!”â€”looks at this deal 1 1/2 years later and says, “Not bad.” Nady, after all, has been injury prone and, when healthy, only moderately productive. And, before his dazzling World Series showing of two months ago, Marte was pretty much a Yankee bustâ€”a 5.40 ERA in 25 games last season, a 9.45 ERA in 21 games this season.
To look merely through the lenses of hindsight, however, is an ignorant way to view a deal. In the summer of 2008, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte were hot properties. A. Neither man made an outlandish amount of money; B. Marte was a proven lefthanded reliever who was about to appear in at least 60 games for a seventh-straight season; C. Nady, while hardly Albert Pujols, is a 20-homer, 80 RBI type of hitter who can play multiple positions and is known as one of the game’s better clubhouse influences. If you were a contending team in 2008, you could use both guys. That’s why both the Mets and Yankees were interested; why the eyes of those covering the Major Leagues were, at last, focused upon Pittsburgh. They had players other teams craved, and they were willing to deal.
So what did the Pirates receive for two craved medallions? Daniel McCutchen, who at best will be a fourth starter for a bad team. Jeff Karstens, a non-roster invitee for 2010 who will likely wind up in Triple A for somebody. Ross Ohlendorf, a No. 5 starter or long reliever for 90 percent of Major League teams (but, in Pittsburgh, a key component of the rotation). And, last but not least, the mighty Jose Tabata, a 21-year-old outfielder and the key to the deal for the Pirates. Tabata’s skills have been compared to those of Manny Ramirez, and he was Baseball America’s 12th best prospect in the Eastern League. But, of late, Tabata has been, well, mediocre. In 93 games split between Double A and Triple A last year, he hit a whopping five home runs, to go with 35 RBI and a .293 average. To suggest Tabata has fallen off the Top Prospect list is going too far. But in Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates have a can’t-miss slugger just waiting for a chance. Tabata can miss. An increasing number of people seem to think he will.
That’s why this trade irks me. The Pirates could have done better. The Pirates should have done better. And the under-performances of Nady and Marte change nothing. It actually reminds me of the 1989 NFL Draft, when my New York Jets (I used to be a huge fan) used the No. 14 pick of the first round to select Jeff Lageman out of Virginia. The green-and-white clad fans rightly booed, and continued to boo throughout Lageman’s productive six years with the team. Why were they never satisfied? Because the Jets could have selected Lageman in the second round, and maybe even the third. Meanwhile, they passed on players like Steve Atwater, Andre Rison and Carnell Lake.
Like the Jets, the Pirates blew a precious opportunity to get significantly better. They left chips on the table, settling for lesser value. And if Tabata becomes the next Cameron Drew, fans will look back at July 26, 2008 at one of the greatest lost opportunities in franchise history.
PS: And to compare Nate McLouth and Lastings Milledge is ludicrous. McLouth is a proven Major Leaguer who, while far from perfect, will have a solid 10-year career. Milledge has now been discarded by two different organizations.