In what appears to be a surprising move, the Pittsburgh Pirates have outrighted outfielder Jose Tabata to Triple-A in an effort to free up space on the active roster for Neil Walker to return from the disabled list. The team announced the moves in a press release Tuesday afternoon.
Tabata was hitting .289/.327/.331 on the year in 154 PA, while providing solid defense in each of the outfield corners. His future in the team’s starting outfield had clearly come into question, however, as Pittsburgh appears set to move forward with an outfield rotation of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco. Tabata could have made for a nice option off the bench, given his defensive track record (he hasn’t made an error since 2012) and speed (47 career stolen bases).
It remains unclear what prompted this decision by the Pirates.
Following a solid rookie season in 2010 in which he hit .299/.346/.400 in 441 PA, the team signed Tabata to a six year extension that would carry him through his arbitration years for a total of $15 Million. The deal also included a trio of option years which could have boosted the total value to $37.5 Million. It was widely viewed as a very team friendly contract for a player who, at the time, appeared to be a piece of the Pirates’ future. Tabata slumped at the plate over the first two years following the extension, but seemed to rebound nicely in 2013. He has yet to develop much power (just 17 career home runs and none this season) and his stolen base totals have dropped each season (just one this year).
With more than three years of service time under his belt, Tabata does have the option to elect free agency instead of accepting the assignment to Triple-A but in doing so he would forfeit the remaining balance of the contract he’d signed in 2011. All told that would be just over $10 Million that he’d be giving up, just for the right to explore his options elsewhere.
Walker had been out the past two weeks following an emergency appendectomy. He had been hitting .280/.353/.452 before landing on the disabled list.