|Making their move in the American League East, the Yankees picked up two solid big league role players, corner outfielder Xavier Nady and lefthander Damaso Marte, in exchange for four minor leaguers. The Pirates’ haul included outfielder Jose Tabata and righthanders Ross Ohlendorf, Dan McCutchen and Jeff Karstens.|
|Nady, 29, is in the midst of the best season of his big league career, which began the year the Padres drafted him in the second round out of California. He signed a major league deal and got a hit in his first at-bat as a pro, in San Diego with the big club. He didn’t return to the majors until 2003, however, and is joining his fourth organization. It’s his second trip to New York, as he briefly spent time with the Mets in 2006 before being traded for Oliver Perez at the deadline. An aggressive hitter (usually too aggressive), Nady has above-average raw power and also can play either outfield corner or first base. For his career, he’s much better against lefthanded pitchers (.879 OPS) than righthanders (.760 OPS). He’s batting .330/.383/.535 with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs and is signed to a one-year deal worth $3.35 million. He can become a free agent after the 2009 season.
Marte, 33, has been using a lower arm angle to pump low-90s fastball and solid sliders past hitters for nine big league seasons. This year, he’s gone 4-0, 3.47 with 47 strikeouts, 16 walks and four home runs in 47 innings. Signed by the Mariners in 1992, he didn’t establish himself as a big leaguer until 2001, with the Pirates, and he also pitched for the White Sox before returning to Pittsburgh in 2006 in a trade for Rob Mackowiak. Marte was a member of Chicago’s 2005 World Series team. According to Inside Edge, 96 percent of Marte’s pitches are either fastballs or sliders. He’s had success against righthanded hitters this season (.562 OPS), but for his career, he’s much more of a left-on-left reliever (.578 OPS vs. lefthanded hitters, .717 vs. righthanded hitters).
Karstens, 25, is a California product who was drafted as a college senior out of Texas Tech. A 19th-round pick in 2003, he reached the major leagues in 2006 and had success in 40-plus innings with his usual assortment of sinkers, sliders and changeups. None of his pitches grades as above-average, and he has to be fine to succeed as a back-of-the-rotation starter. The Yankees liked his moxie since getting him, and so did Davey Johnson, who managed Karstens with USA Baseball’s World Cup team in 2007. He gave up only one run in that event, beating Mexico and South Korea. He’s spent the 2008 season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and was 6-4, 3.80 with 55 strikeouts and 15 walks in 69 innings.
|Tabata, who turns 20 next month, has ranked as one of the Yankees’ top prospects the last three seasons but has had a rough 2008. He was suspended for three games after leaving a game early, and he was removed from a game in early June for disciplinary reasons as well. Tabata has struggled to drive the ball this season, batting just 248/.320/.310 in 294 at-bats for Double-A Trenton. He’s young for the league but had just 12 extra-base hits. His best tool is hit bat, though, and scouts still like his short, low-maintenance swing. Tabata had surgery to remove his hamate bone in his right wrist in August 2007, and his power has suffered. He also missed time this year with a hamstring injury.
Ohlendorf, who turns 26 next month, finished last season in New York, making the playoff roster, and he made the Opening Day roster this season as well in the bullpen. His 6.53 ERA, mostly a function of seven home runs and 19 walks allowed in 40 innings, prompted a return to the minors, and a return to the rotation at Triple-A. The former Diamondbacks farmhand (2004 draft, 4th round, Princeton), acquired prior to the 2007 season in the Randy Johnson trade, thew a fastball in the 92-97 range as a reliever but had no consistent weapon other than his fastball to combat lefthanded hitters. He was working on adding a split-finger fastball in his five starts with Scranton and was expected to join the Pirates’ rotation. He projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever.
McCutchen, 25, was born two days after Karstens and also is at Triple-A. However, he has better stuff by a full grade with his fastball and hard, power curveball, and ranks as the better prospect. His fastball usually sits in the 88-91 mph range as a starter but has reached 94-95 mph in relief outings in his career. His curveball usually earns plaudits from scouts as his best pitch. McCutchen’s toughness has long been evident to scouts and he was drafted four times, including by the Yankees out of high school, and finally signed in 2006 as a 13th-round pick. In between he led Oklahoma to a 2006 super-regional (it lost at Rice), and he advanced to Triple-A in just his second pro season. McCutchen lacks ideal size and at times his fastball flattens out, making him homer-prone. The Yankees viewed him as a championship-caliber middle reliever and back-of-the-rotation starter, and most scouts outside the organization agreed. McCutchen was 8-9, 3.19 in 20 combined starts for Trenton and Scranton, with 110 strikeouts, 29 walks and 14 home runs in 123 innings.
|The Pirates’ farm system was left with little depth after the disastrous reign of former owner Kevin McClatchy and general manager Dave Littlefield. Current GM Neal Huntington had little choice but to deal players such as Marte and Nady, though doing so likely clinches a record-tying 16th consecutive losing season for the Pirates. Huntington sold high and picked up a high-end prospect in Tabata, albeit one with significant question marks concerning his injuries and makeup. Ohlendorf gives them an instant big league return, McCutchen becomes one of the Pirates’ better minor league starters, and Karstens will have more of a chance to stick in the big leagues than ever.
The Yankees, meanwhile, picked up two useful pieces for a surging big league club and used their minor league pitching depth to do it. They didn’t have to give up pitchers such as Dellin Betances, George Kontos or Alan Horne to do it, either. Nady provides a corner outfielder in case Johnny Damon can’t return to the field or can push Jason Giambi to DH and play first base. In either case, his aggressiveness should play well in an otherwise patient, at times passive Yankees lineup. Marte, meanwhile, is a significant upgrade considering the Yankees had no lefthanded reliever and is the best option New York has had in that role since Mike Stanton in his late-90s heyday.