Pirates sign Tabata to six-year extension
Deal includes three options, and could stretch until 2019 season
PITTSBURGH -- Having been told stories about Roberto Clemente from the time he was young, Jose Tabata dreamed of playing right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
That's no longer a dream.
Tabata's career has already taken him to Pittsburgh, and now, after agreeing to a six-year contract extension, he is expected to be a member of this organization for many more years. The Pirates officially announced Tabata's multiyear deal on Sunday, one day after welcoming No. 1 overall Draft pick Gerrit Cole to the organization.
"Wow, it's awesome," Tabata said during a morning news conference. "I feel, right now, that I'm very important for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I like Pittsburgh. I like the city. I like the people. I want to stay here for a long time."
Tabata, 23, should be able to count on that. The six-year deal runs through 2016 and includes three club options. The contract buys out Tabata's three arbitration seasons, meaning that the club has more cost certainty as it begins to project its future payroll.
Tabata will now earn $500,000 this year, along with a $1 million signing bonus. His salary will jump to $750,000 in 2012, $1 million in 2013, $3 million in 2014, $4 million in 2015 and $4.5 million in 2016. That totals a guaranteed $14.75 million.
The club options attached to the extension give the Pirates the ability to keep Tabata from becoming a free agent until after the 2019 season. Those three options are worth $6.5 million (2017), $7.5 million (2018) and $8.5 million (2019). There is a $250,000 buyout attached to each option, if it is not exercised.
"We know what Jose is going to cost the Pittsburgh Pirates as we move forward," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Jose becomes one of those players that we build around as we move forward. We're not always going to be able to come to agreements. But in this case, we're certainly excited to have Jose here, hopefully through 2019. That [year] keeps rolling off my tongue. That's a long time from now."
Tabata was acquired a 2008 trade that sent Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees. The Pirates also received Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Daniel McCutchen in that deal. Tabata made his debut with the Pirates last June and has appeared in 177 games since.
He began Sunday with a .286 career average, with 34 stolen bases, a .350 on-base percentage, 35 doubles and 105 runs. He seems to have found his niche in the leadoff spot, too, which has allowed manager Clint Hurdle the luxury of moving Andrew McCutchen lower in the batting order.
"He would be part of the core we're trying to put in place to maintain traction and move forward," Hurdle said of Tabata. "When you can stick a guy at the leadoff spot and know that defense is on his side, baserunning ability is on his side, stolen bases, on-base percentage ... those are wonderful traits to have in a young player. He's one of the staples that we need to have in place to be a championship organization."
Tabata was a fixture in left field for the Pirates until coming off the disabled list last week. Since then, Tabata has started four games -- including Sunday's series finale against the Reds -- in right. His arm strength and speed give the Pirates the flexibility to use Tabata in either spot, depending on the makeup of the rest of the outfield.
While Tabata is agreeable to either corner outfield position, he cannot hide how much it means to him to play right field -- Clemente's position -- here in Pittsburgh.
"Everybody knows that Roberto is my No. 1 in baseball," said Tabata, who has a tattoo with the image of Clemente on his chest. "When I [was] younger, my father asked me if I wanted to one day play right field. I said, 'Yes.' He said before he died, 'I want to see you play right field.' Right now, he's very happy.
"I say thank you to [my dad] because [when] I was younger, he said, 'I know you don't know Roberto, but I know because I saw [him] on the TV and on videos and in the paper.' He said, 'One day, I want to see you, not like Roberto because Roberto is Roberto, but similar [to] him.' I'm very happy for that."
With Tabata signed, the Pirates now turn their attention to locking up other young players also considered to be cornerstones of the organization.
Multiple sources have confirmed that the club is currently in deep discussions with second baseman Neil Walker about a multiyear extension. That deal would likely include more guaranteed money than Tabata's since Walker will be arbitration eligible a year earlier because of Super Two status.
The Pirates have had similar extension negotiations with center fielder Andrew McCutchen this year, too, though those talks are not currently ongoing. Both sides remain open to future talks.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.