ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Pirates sent outfielder Jose Tabata outright to Class AAA Indianapolis Tuesday, removing their fifth outfielder from the roster after Gregory Polanco's promotion and Josh Harrison's performance left Tabata with the possibility of little playing time.
The move cleared a spot on the roster for second baseman Neil Walker, who was activated from the disabled list.
"I think this was strictly a baseball move, the best baseball move we could make for our team to be the most competitive team we could be moving forward," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Harrison had started in right field since mid-May, then took over second when Walker had an appendectomy and the Pirates recalled Polanco from Indianapolis.
"I think looking at the roster compilation right now, that we have another outfield right-handed hitting option in Harrison," Hurdle said.
The Pirates had placed Tabata, who was out of minor league options, on irrevocable outright waivers and he passed through them without being claimed. Because Tabata has more than three years of major league service time, he could have rejected the outright assignment -- which removed him from the 40-man roster -- and become a free agent, but because he did not yet have five years of major league service, he would have forfeited the remainder of his contract.
The Pirates signed Tabata, 25, to a six-year, $15 million extension in August 2011 that contained three club option years worth a combined $22.5 million and a $250,000 buyout for each. Tabata will earn $4 million in 2015, $4.5 million in 2016, the final two years of his contract before the options start. The size of the contract might have both helped Tabata clear waivers and assure he would accept the assignment.
In 154 plate appearances this season, Tabata was hitting .289 with a .372 on-base percentage, but only a .331 slugging percentage. He hit .305 in May and .318 in June, but had only 26 plate appearances after the arrival of Polanco.
"This is an opportunity, as it is, to go play and get more regular reps, get more at-bats," Hurdle said. "He's of age right now where the future is still in front of him. He's got to make some choices."
The Pirates acquired Tabata, along with pitchers Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Ross Ohlendorf, from the New York Yankees in July 2008 in exchange for reliever Damaso Marte and outfielder Xavier Nady.
"Within the snap of a finger, the blink of an eye, the landscape can change here from a player personnel situation, whether it be injury or anything like that," Hurdle said. "I encouraged him to be hungry. You got to go down and be hungry."
Walker spent 15 days on the DL and was in the lineup Tuesday playing second and batting cleanup.
Bell lands in Futures Game
Class A Bradenton outfielder Josh Bell, the Pirates' No. 7 prospect according to Baseball America, will represent the organization at the Futures Game during All-Star Game festivities. Bell, a second-round pick in 2011, is hitting .335 with nine home runs and seven doubles for Bradenton.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.