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One of GM Neal Huntington’s most talked about trades during his first full season was the July, 2008 deal that sent OF Xavier Nady and RP Damaso Marte to the New York Yankees, netting four Pinstripe farmhands in return. Controversy swirled around the transaction when it was re-worked at the last minute, swapping out 2 of the 4 chips the Pirates were to receive. Here is a quick look back at how all 6 prospects have fared in the years since- and the one that rose above them all.
RP Phil Coke (Removed from Trade)
Coke made the Yankees’ bullpen later that season, posting a stellar 0.61 ERA over 14.2 IP. But he’s been far more pedestrian since, culminating in a 16-20, 3.97 ERA, and 2.25 K/BB over five seasons with the Yankees, and now Detroit Tigers. He’s a capable bullpen arm.
RP George Kontos (Removed from Trade)
A starting pitcher at the time, Kontos was removed from the Yankees’ AA rotation in 2010 after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s maintained a consistently low ERA since, and currently has a 1.64 ERA and 10.6 K/9 as a member of the San Francisco Giants’ bullpen. But at age 27 with only 17 career MLB innings under his belt, he’s far removed from a prospect.
RP Daniel McCutchen (Added to Trade)
After many Pirates’ fans were furious when learning of the initial return, the deal was soon amended to include McCutchen, considered by many to be the best arm in the package. (Whether or not the angst of the fan base actually had anything to do with the deal being re-worked is unlikely, but fun to consider.) Despite greater promise, McCutchen’s career path now looks similar (albeit less effective) to that of Coke and Kontos. The 29-year old has a career 4.67 ERA out of the bullpen, with a handful of scattered starts thrown in for good measure. His successful 2011 was derailed by injury in 2012; he’s currently a member of AAA Indianapolis’ bullpen.
Personally, I liked Ohlendorf’s arm the best of the bunch, and his career has taken the most surprising of turns. After debuting with the Pirates in 2008, Ohlendorf had a breakout 2009 season, finishing 11-10 with a 3.92 ERA on a fairly terrible team overall. Ohlendorf followed that up with an unbelievable 2010 campaign, in which he went 1-11, 4.07 ERA. But it was widely known that Ohlendorf received by far the worst run support in all of Major League Baseball that season, and he still showed flashes of being a potential #2 starter, routinely hitting 94-95 mph even late in starts.
Unfortunately, Ohlendorf’s ERA skyrocketed from that point forward. The Pirates released him after an 8.15 ERA after nine 2011 starts. He spent time with Boston’s AAA affiliate, and is currently a member of the San Diego Padres, but his tenure must be in jeopardy, as he has a 7.31 ERA through 5 appearances.
By far the most talked-about prospect in the deal, the enigmatic young outfielder was saddled with a negative reputation as a Yankees’ farmhand that has unfortunately reared its head with the Pirates as well. Tabata blasted through the Pirates’ minor league system, and was the 75th-ranked prospect in all of baseball heading into 2009. Tabata posted an impressive 103 OPS+ (anything over 100 is generally considered above average) as a 21-year old in 2010, and a 101 OPS+ in 2011, leading the Pirates to sign Tabata to a “team friendly” 6-year early contract extension in August of that year.
Now 23, Tabata has been a rare underachiever on the surprising 2012 club, posting a Clint Barmesian .295 OBP, making foolish mistakes on the basepaths, and generally showcasing a lack of motivation that recently forced the Pirates to demote him to AAA Indianapolis. While most questions about his disputed age (Huntington once fueled the fires by stating, “Well, we know he’s not thirty”) have faded with time, it’s still unclear whether Jose Tabata will follow a Melky Cabrera-type career path to stardom, or be yet another young, talented prospect that flamed out all too quickly.
And out of all 6 players, the surprising gem of them all may end up being…
SP Jeff Karstens (added to trade)Generally considered trade filler to complement McCutchen, Jeff Karstens may end up having the best Major League career of the bunch. Karstens showed flashes of his potential as soon as he donned the black-and-gold, throwing 15 debut scoreless innings- 6 against the Chicago Cubs, followed by an unbelievable complete game 2-hit shutout over the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, Karstens lost his next seven starts to end the 2008 season, and spent the next two years bouncing between the rotation, bullpen, and AAA. Karstens was even waived by the Pirates in November of 2009- and luckily in hindsight, was not claimed.
But Karstens locked his career back on track in 2011, finishing with a 9-9, 3.38 ERA record, largely out of the rotation. Injured during the first month of the 2012 season, Karstens’ return to the rotation in late June of this year caused a bit of a stir, as it bumped fairly successful SP Brad Lincoln back to the pen. But in 2 of his 3 starts since, it’s clear why the Pirates entrusted Karstens in the role. He’s had 2 quality starts in a row, including last night’s series-sweeping victory over the Houston Astros, in which Karstens threw 8 strong shutout innings, surrendering only 4 hits.
Karstens complements a 91-93 mph fastball with pinpoint control, and showcases the ability to mix and change speeds on at least 3 offspeed offerings. He gets ahead of batters early in the count, works quickly, and maintains incredibly low pitch counts that have his defenders spending more time in the dugout than sweltering in the field beneath the summer sun. When you have a MLB pitcher that can expertly control even his fastball and one offspeed pitch- painting corners and avoiding the middle of the plate all game long- he can be good. If he has multiple offspeed weapons in his arsenal, he can be very good.
Right now, Jeff Karstens is pitching as well as he has during his entire Major League career. Don’t miss his next start, which should come against the Milwaukee Brewers following the All-Star break!
Thanks for reading.