Tabata gone but not forgotten

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t exactly get rid of Jose Tabata on Tuesday.

He’s still in the organization, he’s still their property and they still owe him about $9 million.

Tabata cleared waivers and was given an outright assignment to Class AAA Indianapolis. He’s off the 40-man roster. That doesn’t mean he can never return to Pittsburgh, but it makes it pretty clear he’s not a big part of the Pirates’ plans.

They apparently tried to trade him, and there was no market. The contract took care of that. Nobody wants to spend that kind of money on a player who has increasingly profiled to be a fourth outfielder.

The Pirates are on the hook for all of it, and that’s another reminder of the risk that comes with locking up unproven young players.

Tabata was signed during the 2011 season, guaranteed $14.75 million through 2016. The Pirates also built in three option years.

It looked like a steal at the time. Tabata was trading flexibility for guaranteed money. The Pirates were offering a sure thing.

Now in 2014, it looks like a terrible deal. The Pirates have a starting outfield of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco that should be in place at least through 2018, the length of McCutchen’s contract.

Tabata had been supplanted as the fourth outfielder by Josh Harrison. Nobody needs $14.75 million worth of a fifth outfielder.

Tabata can’t lose. He’ll get every dime of that contract. That’s why he accepted the outright assignment to the minors. He could have refused it, but that would have meant forfeiting the contract.

Things could change because of injuries, and Tabata could work his way back. That isn’t likely to happen, though.

For all practical purposes, the Pirates cut their ties with Tabata. At some point, perhaps they’ll be able to trade him, but only if they’re willing to pick up a significant portion of the money that’s still owed to him.

It’s more likely the Pirates will wind up releasing him. Someone will grab him then, because they can sign him for the major league minimum salary while the Pirates are responsible for the rest of his contract.

There’s always sentiment to lock up young players before they become too expensive.

But sometimes those pre-emptive deals don’t work out. That’s what happened to the Pirates with Tabata. They took a reasonable gamble, but they lost millions.

Mehno can be reached at