Sunday, July 27, 2008


Perception is reality.
For Pirates’ fans, unfortunately, reality is reality. And that presents a double-whammy. First, the perception part: And then the reality.

The howls of derision upon the initial confusing announcement that the Pirates had traded Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady for four Yankees’ prospects sealed the perception that rookie Bucs general manager Neil Huntington had gotten fleeced by savvy veteran general manager Brian Cashman.

The announcement was confusing in part because two of the Yankees prospects announced initially were not the actual players who ended up being dealt to Pittsburgh. That’s one part of it, and just the start, but not necessarily the most important part.

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls just happened to be watching the Bucs-Padres game Friday night as all this unfolded. As soon as play-by-play announcer Lanny Frattarre uttered the words, “The Pirates have a deal with the Yankees,” JPPBs muttered "Oh, no.”

For one thing, all that is New York baseball (Yankees, Mets, media, fans) have a history and tendency to over-value their players and prospects. Another factor is that Nady and Marte were dealt as a package, which rang alarm bells because there was almost no way we were going to get comparable value in return. Then, when the (first, inaccurate) names of the prospects were announced, JPPBs' reaction was “Oh, NO!”

The problem was they didn’t get the BEST prospects, whether those prospects were to come from the Yankees (Philip Hughes), Mets (Fernando Martinez), Rays (Wade Davis), Brewers (AA outfielder), Cardinals (Colby Rasmus), Dodgers, Red Sox or another team. Or at least one of the BEST prospects for this particular package deal.

The reality is theYankees fleeced them, a perception that was reinforced LOUD and CLEAR immediately after the game on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight when Buster Olney immediately and vociferously said he’d been getting text messages and calls all night long from incredulous front office types throughout baseball, saying, “Are you kidding me? That’s all the Yankees had to give up??! To get Marte and Nady? There were, certainly, better offers out there for the Pirates.”

Then, of course, the New York tabloids gleefully crowed about how the Yanks had seized “Pirate Booty” and loot and treasure without having had to give up anything meaningful at all. Further, more in-depth analysis from more thoughtful baseball analysts concluded the Yankees had shipped inconsequential quantity instead of meaningful quality to the Pirates.

Now, a closer look at the reality. First, we have to acknowledge the actual players the Pirates received (Karstens, McCutcheon, Ohlendorf, Tabata). The three pitchers are all thought to have low upside, either as middle-to-back-of-rotation starters or mid-level relievers. Tabata, whom Baseball America rated as the Yanks’ No. 3 prospect after the 2007 season is the wild card in this deal. He is, after all, only 19 years old. He may (should) have some upside. Or he may flame out. And if the 2008 season is any indication, the Yanks concluded the latter was more a possibility than the former. He sustained an ankle injury, then went on the disabled list with lingering hamstring problems, which may be chronic. Perhaps more worrisome, the outfielder dubbed “Mini-Manny” or “Manny Ramirez Light” appears to flash not only some of the batting prowess of the Red Sox slugger, but also some of Ramirez’s head-case and prima dona traits. Reportedly, he walked out on his team at one point this season and also apparently has complained about having to handle pressure and meet expectations. Not what you want to hear from a top prospect you hope will become a future team leader. Granted, he’s only 19, but still …a bit of a concern.

Of course, all worries may diminish if he blossoms away from the glare of the New York spotlight, matures, finds his stride, gets healthy, avoids hamstring problems, cuts down his strikeouts, improves his defense, sharpens his plate discipline, and grows into a mini-Manny type of slugger (a lot of ifs) ... If he becomes, in other words, a player approaching the accomplishments, maturity and leadership of Xavier Nady. Who, it bears mentioning, actually wanted to stay with the Pirates, who controlled his rights through next season and had every option to negotiate a contract extension with him -– and, as has been noted here previously, could have moved him to first base (scuttling Adam LaRoche) to open space in the outfield for Andrew McCutchen (eventually) or the type of uber-prospect they might have (should have) obtained in a trade.

As for Marte, he is one of the very best – perhaps the best left-handed reliever in baseball, making him a very precious commodity indeed. One that is worth, oh, probably, $6.5 million a year in today’s market … which happens to be the same amount as the option the Pirates could have exercised to retain his services next year. Keep him through 2009, then, and let him go to free agency – and then collect the two premium compensatory picks that would come their way.

But all that would require patience. And the new Pirates management regime, by dealing Nady and Marte for questionable value a full week before the trading deadline have shown already they don’t have it (patience).

Worse, by doing this deal, they have now set perception across the marketplace. Now, the perception across the league, is that Huntington, the rookie general manager, can be fleeced. Now, the pressure will be on other general managers to make deals with the Pirates, and only deals, that they, and their fans and media, can gleefully crow about how they fleeced the Pirates.

That’s the reality. And the perception, no matter how this deal works out.

Footnote: JPPBs hate, absolutely hate, the perception that the Pirates willingly served themselves up as the Yankees beeyotch. Of all teams to help. The Evil Empire was absolutely the wrong team to do this particular deal, at this particular time.

Now let's start Steelers training camp.

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Monday Addendum

Various Observations and Comments From Media Reports, Analysts and Blogs:

(Note: Editorial emphasis [italics] added to comments below are courtesy of JPPBs)

* * * * *

"It was hard to give up the players we did. I like those players," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said in the New York dugout before Saturday's game. "The players we got back — Marte and Nady — both will hopefully contribute to the 2008 season and we have them for '09."

"It helps out the team, not only now but also in the long run," Johnny Damon said of acquiring Nady. "He's one of the most underrated players around. I think he's one of the best outfielders in the game."

Reader Comment on WHYGAVS (Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke):

"What bothers me most about the trade, if the reports are true, is that NH called around Thursday night and basically said he was dropping his asking price. I just don't think guys like Billy Beane do that … It sounds like he talked big and then caved. That's a bad precedent to set … And I definitely don't think he "got what he wanted." The PG says teams gave him lists with tons of prospects' names crossed off as untouchable. I'm sure many of them are who he wanted. He just ended up taking the best deal he could get."

Chris | Nice Pick Cowher | 07.27.08 - 12:32 pm | #

Reader Comment on WHYGAVS:

"I xxxx-ing hate it. Clear enough? Not because of the guys we lost, not at all. I just hate Ohly and Karstens, and I guess I don't see what others see in McCutchen. I'm also a little wary of how Tabata's performance (regardless that he's young) isn't really matching the hype, *at all*. I reserve the right to change my mind based on what Tabata does in five years, or if Pat tells me to change my mind."

azibuck | 07.27.08 - 5:26 pm | #

Reader Comment on WHYGAVS:

The New York Post rips apart our "uber-prospect" Tabata: 0727...jose_121746.htm

And yes, I know the NY spin machine isn't going to admit they just gave away the next A-Rod but the fact he went from "untouchable" to "Here Pirates, take him..." should make you a little worried when you read some of this stuff.

Chris | Homepage | 07.27.08 - 11:21 pm | #

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Wilbur Miller (

"Personally, I don’t think GM Neal Huntington got enough—I think one of the pitchers needed to have a higher ceiling than the three he obtained … Jose Tabata is an extremely high-risk player with a lot of upside and numerous red flags. Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens look to me like middle relievers, but they’ll get their shots at the rotation. Daniel McCutchen looks like he has a little more chance of being a successful major league starter, but he may have to wait until next year to get his shot."

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Bucco Blog (Jake's Take):

"What should you expect from Karstens? He’s been an extreme flyball pitcher at times and that doesn’t bode well considering he’s making his Pirates debut at Wrigley in an afternoon game …One source of mine suggested he thought Karstens might have been hiding a shoulder injury since mid-2007, so let’s watch and see if he doesn’t become yet another Pittsburgh DL candidate."

"Neil Huntington's prayer is that Tabata becomes something. He'd better, because that’s all we got for Nady and Marte - a huge risk. That’s not smart baseball in my book."

* * * * *

Joel Sherman, NY Post:

OF SIXTEEN scouts and executives polled, 12 thought the Yankees won their trade with Pittsburgh anywhere from mildly to a slam dunk, two viewed the deal as having equal value for both sides, and just two favored the Pirates' side of the transaction.

Those who liked the Yankees' acquisition of Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte essentially expressed the view that the Yankees addressed two areas of extreme need -- a righty-hitting corner outfield bat and a top lefty reliever -- without surrendering a substantial package. An NL scout who covers the Yankees went as far as to say, "I don't think the Yankees gave up anything."

For Pittsburgh, this deal does seem to hinge mainly on just how good Tabata is. As one farm director said, "If you saw him at the Futures Game two years ago at 17, you were sure you were watching a budding superstar. If you saw him this year, you were sure you were watching a bum."

An AL executive said, "A year and a half ago, he was untouchable. Now you have questions about if his age is accurate (his listed birthdate has him turning 20 next month) and a lot about his makeup."

The reports this year on Tabata have been universally horrendous. The comparisons to Manny Ramirez are long gone.

"He may have had tools when he signed, but if you were watching him this year, he was chunky and stiff," one scout said. "He doesn't run well. He made zero adjustments at the plate. He couldn't hit my inside fastball. He is immature, has a lot of holes in his swing and is bad in the outfield."

An AL personnel head said, "Tabata is the wild card in this trade. He has a big offensive upside, but his body type is not great, the reports are not good on him this year and the makeup is not good at all. And my biggest worry of all is that the Yankees know him best of all and traded him. That willingness says something to me."

What it should say is that the Yanks felt Double-A outfield mate Austin Jackson had gone way beyond Tabata, which our panel concurred on, though several were not nearly as high on Jackson as the Yankees are. It also said Tabata has exhibited a lot of immature behavior, which included leaving the stadium in frustration during a game. Still, there remained Yankees executives who continued to think of Tabata as both a good person and a player who will hit. Tabata fractured his hamate bone in his hand last year, and there are many who believe he is just now fully regaining his strength.

And the Pirates also love Ohlendorf, insisting throughout trade discussions with the Yanks that he must be part of a deal. Executives from other clubs say Huntington, as a scout last year for the Indians, saw Ohlendorf pitch well and that has stuck with him. Internally, the Yanks wondered why Ohlendorf had not pitched up to his superb stuff, which is an outside view as well.

"Ohlendorf is a horse with stuff who doesn't get guys out," a scout said. "I think he might not be built for New York, but that the New York experience helps him in Pittsburgh."

A more dubious scout said, "He is not young, he is getting hit around and his slider, which I thought would develop, hasn't."

McCutchen has been a favorite of Yankees officials because, as one said, "He's very competitive, has great makeup, is a workout freak and is durable." The Yanks imagine him as nothing less than a competent bullpen guy with a chance to be a fourth or fifth starter. Karstens was essentially a version of Darrell Rasner, which made him expendable.

* * * * * (Star-Ledger):

The Yankees appear to have found their outfield bat and their left-handed reliever in the same trade. Yankees players were pleased with the news.

"They really answered the bell, getting those two players," Jason Giambi said. "You couldn't ask for anything more from a front office, owner, general manager. As a player, it makes you feel good."

"Marte's a strong left-handed reliever," closer Mariano Rivera said. "He's been in tough situations. He will help a lot. Obviously, you need a lefty reliever."

Giambi said that for a left-handed hitter, Marte "is as tough an at-bat as anybody in the league."

Nady, 29, has a career .281 batting average with the Padres, Mets and Pirates. His .330 average this year ranked fifth in the National League. He also has 13 home runs and 57 RBI in 88 games this season. The Mets traded Nady to the Pirates in July 2006 for Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez. He is eligible for free agency after the 2009 season.

"I like the fact he's played in New York," Alex Rodriguez said.

Giambi called Nady "a great right-handed bat. He takes good at-bats, plays good defense. With this team being so left-handed-dominant, it's definitely going to pick us up."

* * * * *

Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski says Pirates were robbed by Yankees in recent trade

by Filip Bondy, NY Daily News

Did the Yankees just get revenge for 1960?

As word of the Yankees' trade for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates filtered through the annual party thrown by Hall of Fame chairman Jane Clark on Friday night, no one was more stunned than Pirates Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski, whose homer against the Yankees won the 1960 World Series.

"I can't believe it!" Mazeroski said. "We just traded two of our best players for four guys I never heard of. How could we do this?"

Reader Comments:

Ray1950 Jul 28, 2008 6:21:21 AM:

"The Pirates weren't robbed. They all but opened the doors to the vault for New York. Thats exactly why they are the Pittsburgh Pirates. All of the Cashman bashers should cease and desist. I am a Red Sox fan and I'd trade Cashman for Theo Epstein any day of the week."

SwitchBack Jul 28, 2008 7:52:19 AM:

"I wonder if the Yankee's visit to Pittsburgh in late June had anything to do with this? The Yanks brought a lot of fanfare and revenue to the usual empty ballpark. Plus the Pirates wouldn't grant the Yankees an afternoon game on that Thursday, instead made them stay in town longer for a more $lucrative$ night game. Looks like they paid the Yankees back 10 fold."

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MLB Fleece Factor:

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Baseball America (John Manuel):

"Karstens, 25, is a California product who was drafted as a college senior out of Texas Tech. A 19th-round pick in 2003, he reached the major leagues in 2006 and had success in 40-plus innings with his usual assortment of sinkers, sliders and changeups. None of his pitches grades as above-average, and he has to be fine to succeed as a back-of-the-rotation starter."

"Tabata, who turns 20 next month, has ranked as one of the Yankees' top prospects the last three seasons but has had a rough 2008. He was suspended for three games after leaving a game early, and he was removed from a game in early June for disciplinary reasons as well. Tabata has struggled to drive the ball this season, batting just 248/.320/.310 in 294 at-bats for Double-A Trenton. He's young for the league but had just 12 extra-base hits. His best tool is his bat, though, and scouts still like his short, low-maintenance swing. Tabata had surgery to remove his hamate bone in his right wrist in August 2007, and his power has suffered. He also missed time this year with a hamstring injury."
"Ohlendorf, who turns 26 next month, finished last season in New York, making the playoff roster, and he made the Opening Day roster this season as well in the bullpen. His 6.53 ERA, mostly a function of seven home runs and 19 walks allowed in 40 innings, prompted a return to the minors, and a return to the rotation at Triple-A. The former Diamondbacks farmhand (2004 draft, 4th round, Princeton), acquired prior to the 2007 season in the Randy Johnson trade, thew a fastball in the 92-97 range as a reliever but had no consistent weapon other than his fastball to combat lefthanded hitters. He was working on adding a split-finger fastball in his five starts with Scranton and was expected to join the Pirates' rotation. He projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever."
"McCutchen, 25, was born two days after Karstens and also is at Triple-A. However, he has better stuff by a full grade with his fastball and hard, power curveball, and ranks as the better prospect. His fastball usually sits in the 88-91 mph range as a starter but has reached 94-95 mph in relief outings in his career. His curveball usually earns plaudits from scouts as his best pitch. McCutchen's toughness has long been evident to scouts and he was drafted four times, including by the Yankees out of high school, and finally signed in 2006 as a 13th-round pick. In between he led Oklahoma to a 2006 super-regional (it lost at Rice), and he advanced to Triple-A in just his second pro season. McCutchen lacks ideal size and at times his fastball flattens out, making him homer-prone. The Yankees viewed him as a championship-caliber middle reliever and back-of-the-rotation starter, and most scouts outside the organization agreed. McCutchen was 8-9, 3.19 in 20 combined starts for Trenton and Scranton, with 110 strikeouts, 29 walks and 14 home runs in 123 innings."

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Baseball America's Quick Take:

The Pirates' farm system was left with little depth after the disastrous reign of former owner Kevin McClatchy and general manager Dave Littlefield. Current GM Neal Huntington ... sold high and picked up a high-end prospect in Tabata, albeit one with significant question marks concerning his injuries and makeup. Ohlendorf gives them an instant big league return, McCutchen becomes one of the Pirates' better minor league starters, and Karstens will have more of a chance to stick in the big leagues than ever.

The Yankees, meanwhile, didn't have to give up pitchers such as Dellin Betances, George Kontos or Alan Horne. Marte, meanwhile, is a significant upgrade considering the Yankees had no lefthanded reliever and is the best option New York has had in that role since Mike Stanton in his late-90s heyday.

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The Pirates weakened their offense and just about crippled their bullpen in a trade last night with the New York Yankees that showed just how desperate general manager Neal Huntington was to improve the team's pitching depth …

The pitchers the Yankees sent did not include Ian Kennedy, who was thought to be available and was more highly regarded than the ones the Pirates received.

The outfielder Huntington probably had his eye on was Austin Jackson, 21, the Yankees No. 2 prospect, who hits with more power than Tabata and is better defensively. Austin was batting .298 with nine homers and 57 RBIs, which was eighth best in the Eastern League.

The deal correctly will be viewed as a big win for the Yankees. They received two players who will be of immediate help as they try to overtake Tampa Bay and Boston in the American League East.

Considering the age of Tabata, it might be years before the Pirates learn how much this deal will help them. For the moment, though, with this trade they are a considerably weaker team and the Yankees are a considerably stronger team.

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Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports):

The reviews of the Pirates' four-player return for outfielder Xavier Nady and lefty Damaso Marte ranged from critical to scathing, but righty Daniel McCutchen was a favorite of the Yankees' brass. McCutchen projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter or setup man, but the Yankees say his makeup is so strong, he could exceed those expectations . . .

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Peter Pascarelli, ESPN:

Rarely does a team venture into the trade market and obtain exactly what it wants. Love them or loathe them, the Yankees achieved a trading daily double by obtaining a much-needed everyday bat (outfielder Xavier Nady) and a proven left-handed reliever (Damaso Marte) in the same trade with Pittsburgh.

"We were concerned right up until the deal was eventually finalized that Pittsburgh would end up trying to split Nady and Marte into separate deals," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "Getting them both in the same trade is something that, at the beginning, we viewed as probably a little wishful thinking. We ended up paying a pretty steep price in terms of four useful players.

"But the deal makes a lot of sense for us on several levels."

The move was met with wide appreciation in the New York clubhouse, which is understandably brimming with confidence right now.

"This could end up being one of the best moves we've made in a while," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "We really needed a solid bat because of losing both Matsui and Posada, and we couldn't have done much better than getting Nady. He's having a great year. He knows what it takes to play in New York and he loved playing in the city when he was with the Mets. He can't be a free agent until after next season, so we'll have him in '09. And as for Marte, I bet every team in baseball would make room on their staff for him. We've all been psyched up ever since first hearing that this deal might happen."


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Pirates, if you are near a TV, turn on WQED, I am watching a great program about Roberto Clemente. Its half over, you can catch second half.

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

Thanks, Ananoymous. I happened to be watching that same program at the same time. That's a nationally produced program, The American Experience. Very well done, very moving. Clemente: The Great One.