Sandy Alderson has given the New York Mets outfield a makeover this winter, but it's debatable whether or not all the acquisitions will be helpful.
Given the inflated prices of the free-agent market, taking a risk on Curtis Granderson was one the team had to take. On the other hand, giving Chris Young $7.25 million has some scratching their heads.
He can hit home runs but is prone to a lot of strikeouts and a low on-base percentage. If he’s not productive, there isn’t much depth in the outfield behind Eric Young Jr.
As players begin reporting to spring training and prepare for 2014, Alderson and his staff should keep close tabs on Jose Tabata.
Once considered an important piece of the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tabata could be on the outside looking in by midseason when it comes to regular playing time. He broke out in 2010 by hitting .299/.346/.400 with 19 stolen bases, placing eighth in National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Another solid year in 2011 spurred the Pirates to lock him up with a six-year, $15 million deal, including three team-friendly options. The young outfielder hit a bump in his development in 2012. Lack of production and hustle landed him back in Triple-A for a prolonged period of time.
He shared playing time in 2013, but brought his career back to life with his best performance since 2010. Tabata posted career highs in slugging percentage (.429), home runs (six) and triples (five). His .282 batting average and 33 RBI were the best since his rookie year.
MLB Depth Charts has Tabata currently tabbed as Pittsburgh’s starting right fielder, but it may not be that way for long.
Thus far in his career, he’s spent most of his time hitting either first or second in the lineup—1,309 of his 1,538 career plate appearances, to be exact. The emergence of Starling Marte and Jordy Mercer has him occupying the eighth spot.
There is quite a bit of minor league talent waiting to make an impact in the big leagues, as well. Prospects Josh Bell and Barrett Barnes aren't projected to debut until 2016 (according to MLB.com), but Gregory Polanco will make landfall sometime this season.
Across three minor league levels in 2013, Polanco hit .285/.356/.434 with 12 home runs, 71 RBI, 30 doubles and 38 stolen bases. He only played in two games for Triple-A Indianapolis last season, but could be with the Pirates by the summer if he continues to produce.
When Pittsburgh promotes the second-best prospect in its system, he’s going to play. Marte and Andrew McCutchen aren’t going anywhere in left and center field, respectively, meaning Tabata will be most affected.
His contract is still at a manageable price, but it’s doubtful the Pirates will want to pay $11.5 million over the next three seasons for a bench player ($34 million over six years if all three options are exercised).
This is where the Mets could swoop in and benefit greatly. Currently, there isn’t a player in New York’s projected everyday lineup that is a solid leadoff hitter. According to Terry Collins, Eric Young Jr. is the leading candidate (per ESPN New York), but he doesn’t have a regular position to play.
With the one-year commitment to Chris Young, Alderson will need to address the outfield again next winter. The organization has intriguing prospects in Cesar Puello and Dustin Lawley, but neither of them is a sure thing for the future.
If New York’s first baseman (either Ike Davis or Lucas Duda) can provide the power needed from that position, Alderson can feel more comfortable pursuing a player of Tabata’s caliber for right field.
He's under contract through the 2016 season, but team options can keep him under control through his age-30 season in 2019—likely the prime years of his career.
If given the opportunity, Tabata has the potential to hit between 10 and 15 home runs, 30 or more doubles and possibly 10 or more triples in the spacious confines of Citi Field. He doesn’t have blistering speed, but can run well and get on base at a high enough clip to justify him leading off.
Without much organizational depth in the outfield, it would be smart for the Mets to keep tabs on him. Once Polanco is promoted and inserted into the lineup, the Pirates may look to unload his salary. Now that New York has more financial flexibility, his price is something the Wilpons can apparently take on.
New York could entice general manager Neal Huntington with a couple pitching prospects. Jacob deGrom, Darin Gorski and Logan Verrett come to mind as options—they’re all currently starters, but could also end up being relievers in the big leagues. Their asking price in a potential swap is a moving target at this point, considering Tabata’s play from one year to the next.
Considering his affordability, years of control and the skills he can provide, it would be silly for Sandy Alderson to not keep him on his radar throughout the season.
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