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Fan appreciation week rolls on in Pittsburgh, as the Pirates continues to open their checkbook, even after a very expensive draft. It appears that re-signing Tabata could be a precursor to another deal, as Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes that the Pirates and Neil Walker are deep in talks. Playoff hopes may have diminished in the Steel City, but this franchise is still better off than it was five years ago and brighter times lay ahead.
Tabata’s extension is for six years, and that is true in the most technical of senses, because the 2011 season is included. In addition to giving Tabata a raise for the season’s final few weeks, the Pirates are also giving him a signing bonus. Don’t confuse generosity for foolishness, though, as the Pirates are hardly being shortchanged with this new pact, as they have bought out the rest of Tabata’s cost- and team-controlled seasons in addition to holding three option years overlapping with his free agent eligibility.
Extensions signed in the player’s pre-arbitration phase rarely if ever look bad for the team on signing day, and Tabata’s is no different. In exchange for cost certainty, the Pirates are guaranteeing Tabata $14.75 million. The proper balance of security and earning potential vary from situation-to-situation, and in Tabata’s case, he and his agent may cost themselves money with this deal, but sometimes that is worth a good state of mind. More than 60 percent of the deal’s potential total value ($37.25 million) is tied up in the three option seasons, giving the Pirates a good degree of security too.
The deal looks like a bargain through the lenses of dollars-per-win analysis. Tabata has accumulated 2.6 Wins Above Replacement Player in his career, including 0.7 wins this season. If the market rate is something like $4-to-5 million, then Tabata would be awfully close to being worth the highest salary of his guaranteed seasons. Teams do not sign players to these deals with the exception of breaking even, and the Pirates are no different, since they probably have a higher opinion of Tabata's present and/or future value than most.
Tabata has more than 750 major league plate appearances so far and boasts a .286/.349/.385 line. With Andrew McCutchen going nowhere, Tabata profiles as something of a tweener—his bat fits better in center, but his glove does not. Players who man corner positions tend to have some kind of pop, but Tabata does not and he has just eight home runs during his career. Factor in that only a quarter of Tabata’s hits have gone for extra bases (the league-average is 33 percent), and this is not a situation where speed makes up for lacking power.
As for Tabata’s secondary skills, he isn’t Carl Crawford or Ichiro Suzuki. His defense is good (career 5.1 FRAA), but not great. His speed plays up during the run of play, but he lacks the stolen base totals of a volume thief (34 for his career) as well as the success rate of an efficient pickpocket (72 percent). The best thing Tabata has going for him right now is an increased on-base percentage this season despite a dip in batting average. That increase is due to Tabata walking six more times than he did in 2010 without the benefit of an extra 130 plate appearances. All and all, the total package is a little underwhelming, but there is some room for optimism.
Many thought during Tabata's prospect days that his quick wrists would lead to more in-game power as he matured. Those folks are yet to be vindicated, but there is still perceived upside with Tabata since he is just 23-years-old—or, at least, that is his listed age. Neal Huntington addressed allegations that Tabata is older than his listed age in early 2010 and stated that rumblings were of no concern to the Pirates. You have to think the Pirates did further legwork on Tabata before agreeing to this deal, as the dynamics change if his age is closer to 30 than 20.
In addition to the age questions, Tabata has dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career. He just returned to the lineup earlier this week after missing nearly two months with a thigh strain. In the past, Tabata has dealt with wrist surgery and other thigh injuries that have caused him to miss time. The Pirates have the most knowledge of Tabata’s medicals and should be treated as rational actors until they prove they are unworthy of the benefit.
Even with the question marks, Tabata does not have to blossom further in order to make this a profitable deal for the Pirates, but if he does, then the Pirates could have a serious coup on their hands.