Pirates demote Jose Tabata and his $15 million contract to Triple-A

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Less than a year ago the Pirates and Jose Tabata agreed to a long-term contract extension that guarantees him $15 million, could reach as high as $37 million, and keeps him under team control through 2019.

Today the Pirates optioned Tabata to Triple-A after he hit just .230 with three homers and a .636 OPS in 72 games.

Tabata’s production last season was also disappointing, as he failed to build on a strong rookie campaign and also missed significant time with a broken hand, but he’s been downright awful this year offensively, defensively, and on the bases.

Still, to go from $15 million contract extension to Triple-A banishment in 11 months is pretty remarkable and it’s interesting that the Pirates chose not to call up top prospect Starling Marte as his replacement. Instead they’ll keep Marte at Triple-A and turn to Gorkys Hernandez, a light-hitting speedster who briefly saw some action in Pittsburgh back in May. That suggests they view the Tabata demotion as temporary–which is sort of a given thanks to the contract–and may also feel that Marte isn’t quite ready for the big leagues at age 23.

Also worth noting: At the time of the signing Tabata’s contract extension struck me as “an odd move for the Pirates given that Tabata is under their control through 2016 already and hasn’t exactly established himself as a long-term building block yet.” Sometimes things are exactly as they appear.

Hunter Pence is mashing for the Rangers

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Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.

Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.

Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.

What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.