Are Bay, Wilson or Grabow next to go?
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So, who goes next?
The Pirates will not be slamming down the phone on anyone calling about Jason Bay, Jack Wilson or John Grabow between now and Major League Baseball's trading deadline Thursday, even after consummating a six-player deal with the New York Yankees yesterday afternoon.
But, according to multiple sources, it will not be easy to pry away any of those three, notably Bay.
"We'll need to be blown away," one team source said, referring to Bay.
The New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Oakland Athletics are among those known to have inquired, but there is nothing significant brewing, much less imminent, on any front. A source in New York yesterday said the Mets see a Bay deal as unlikely. Same is true on all fronts with Wilson and Grabow.
This much is looking increasingly certain, though: The acquisition of four prospects -- pitchers Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Daniel McCutchen, and outfielder Jose Tabata -- from the New York Yankees for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte will be the beginning of such transactions, not the end. Management is highly disenchanted with its depth through the system, particularly the pitching, and if no deals for the above players are consummated this week, they will be revisited in the offseason.
Management still has not ruled out that those players could stay for the long term, but that will take two circumstances:
1. Trade offers will have to fall short of expectations between now and next season.
2. The Pirates must be legitimately competitive in the first half of 2009. If not, and those players still are here while heading into free-agency eligibility, another attempt to move them will be made.
Team president Frank Coonelly acknowledged yesterday for the first time that the Pirates are "not likely to compete for a postseason berth this year," but he stressed that no fire sale was taking place.
"Today's trade is not a sign that additional trades are imminent before the deadline," Coonelly said. "The organization will, however, continue to evaluate aggressively any opportunity to make additions that will help build the foundation upon which we can again win championships in Pittsburgh. We have said from the beginning that we do not aspire to finish .500."
"We're still looking to make good baseball trades," Huntington said.
The Nady-Marte trade took an unexpected route toward completion . . .
Early Friday evening, word leaked that the four prospects acquired by the Pirates would be Ohlendorf, Tabata and pitchers George Kontos and Phil Coke. In actuality, according to a team source yesterday, the framework at the time included only four players: Nady, Marte, Ohlendorf and Tabata, plus two undecideds. The Pirates did look into Kontos and Coke but, according to a source outside the Pirates but with direct knowledge, one of those pitchers was diagnosed with damage to the labrum. The Baseball Prospectus Web site reported that it was Coke.
The Pirates declined comment on the medical matter.
Talks continued deep into the night and concluded at roughly 3:10 a.m. yesterday, with the teams finally agreeing on Karstens and McCutchen as the closing components.
Karstens, who will turn 26 in September, will join the Pirates' rotation soon, though it has not been decided whose spot -- John Van Benschoten or Yoslan Herrera -- he will take. Van Benschoten pitched abysmally again last night -- seven runs in 1 2/3 innings -- and Herrera will take his next turn Tuesday, so Van Benschoten probably is out.
The team probably will not have Karstens for the game this afternoon, leaving the pitching staff a man short a second day.
Karstens is a 6-foot-3 right-hander with less-than-overpowering stuff but good command. He made 15 appearances and nine starts with the Yankees -- none this season -- and was 3-5 with a 5.65 ERA. In the minors, he has a 3.51 career ERA, including a 5-4 record and 3.71 ERA this year with Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Ohlendorf will join the Pirates' rotation, too, but only after his arm is stretched out -- he pitched mostly in relief this summer -- with three or four starts at Class AAA Indianapolis.
McCutchen, who also will turn 26 in September, is a fly-ball right-hander who has yet to reach the majors and has split this season between Class AA and AAA. In nine starts for Class AA Trenton, he was 4-3 with a 2.55 ERA. In 11 starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he was 4-6 with a 3.58 ERA.
He is coming off a terrific start in which he fanned 10 and walked none in a five-hit shutout.
"Very aggressive," Huntington said. "A real strike-thrower."
McCutchen was suspended 50 games in 2006 for using a performance-enhancing substance. He said in a newspaper report a year later that it was not steroids but, rather, medication for attention deficit disorder. That is a condition the Pirates' Adam LaRoche and Tom Gorzelanny also have, with LaRoche getting permission each year from MLB to take medication.
Huntington said the Pirates' research backs that the McCutchen matter was ADD-related.
Tabata, who will turn 20 in two weeks, is seen by the Pirates as the great variable in the deal, as well as a great buy-low opportunity. New York general manager Brian Cashman had considered him an untouchable as recently as last winter. But two things happened in the interim: Nady's stock soared, and Tabata's dipped at Trenton, his numbers falling to .248 with three home runs in 79 games.
If the Pirates could have traded Nady and Marte straight up for Tabata last winter, Huntington said, "We would have done it in a heartbeat."
Tabata has had discipline issues, including getting suspended once for leaving the stadium during a game. He is seen by many in the business as cocky, and the Pirates did little to diffuse that perception.
"The research we've done is that this is a young man who expects to be successful, and he struggled," Huntington said.
Tabata has not played since July 1 because of a hamstring injury, but he will report to the Pirates' rehabilitation facility in Bradenton, Fla., and remain there only 4-7 days before returning to action. There are no issues with the hamate bone removed from Tabata's hand late last year.
So, why did the Pirates feel the need to pull the trigger on the trade five days before the deadline?
Moreover, why include both of their prime chips in the same deal?
To the first question, Huntington replied, ""We felt it was the right deal. We felt, with the upside of Tabata and the three upper-level starting pitchers, it was the right deal."
To the second question, Huntington described a tough trading environment for elite prospects.
"It's been a challenging process," he said. "I've never seen young prospects have greater value."
One source said teams were handing the Pirates lists that had as many as eight players crossed off -- meaning unavailable through trade -- when offered Nady or Marte individually. The Pirates would see a player or two they liked on those lists, but no one they flat-out loved. It was early this week, the source said, when Cashman called in a bid for both, that it was decided to combine the two and get Tabata.
The Pirates aggressively asked for outfielder Austin Jackson, the top prospect in New York's system, but were unable to change Cashman's mind. The same was true of Ian Kennedy, the Yankees' top pitching prospect.
"I love Ohlendorf, Kartstens, Tabata ??? I wouldn't have done this for a rental for a few months," Cashman told reporters in Boston, where the Yankees played yesterday. "It was very important to us that these two players were under control through next year. It was hard to give up what we did. I like those young players. But you have to give up to get."
The Pirates also considered hanging onto Marte for the two compensation draft picks he might bring them -- he can be a Type A free agent this winter -- but decided Tabata potentially was worth more.
Also yesterday, the Pirates recalled Steve Pearce and immediately put him in Nady's place in right field. Manager John Russell said, "we want to see him play," but stopped well short of promising everyday duty, noting that Jason Michaels and Doug Mientkiewicz also could see time there. There is a chance Pearce could play some first base, too.
First Published July 27, 2008 12:00 am