It’s no secret that the Braves are looking for a left fielder—preferably one with a good OBP and some speed that could hit leadoff. 

Coco Crisp is the obvious option, but with his $7 million dollar contract, he might prevent Atlanta from making any deadline moves (unless Wren were to move Maholm).

Lately the rumors surrounding Michael Bourn have heated up, and ESPN’s Jim Bowden tweeted that he may yet return to Atlanta. However, unless Liberty Media opens up its checkbook, Bourn will still be an expensive purchase.

While these two remain options, but there’s one player potentially on the market that would fit Atlanta’s roster perfectly.

Debuting in 2010 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jose Tabata quickly proved to be an asset at the top of the order, hitting .284 with a .348 OBP over his first two years in the league while collecting 35 stolen bases. 

Pittsburgh believed in Tabata so much that he was signed to a six-year contract extension in 2011.

But then 2012 happened.

Through July 1, Tabata was hitting .230 with a .295 OBP. He had been benched for not hustling to first base, and his poor performance was clearly affecting him psychologically. 

Soon, the frustrated Tabata was sent to Triple-A, where he was supposed to iron out his problems at the plate and renew his focus.

Unfortunately, while he played moderately well for Indianapolis (his stats can be found here), he didn’t exactly set the world on fire with his .707 OPS. 

Regardless, it was good enough for Pittsburgh to call him up in time for their (hopeful) stretch run. From August 19 to the end of the season, Tabata hit .284/.376/.370 in a part-time role, and will look to make his closing performance a launching pad for the 2013 campaign.

However, whether or not Tabata still has a full-time role in Pittsburgh is yet to be seen.

Andrew McCutchen is quickly etching himself into Pirates lore and Starling Marte looks to patrol an outfield spot for a long time coming.

That leaves one spot for Tabata, but he’ll have heavy competition for it. Garrett Jones will be getting full-time at-bats, but if Gaby Sanchez performs well enough, he could force Jones to either split time at first and right field, or simply move into right field for good. 

Travis Snider is also in the conversation for Pittsburgh’s right field spot. Snider mauls Triple-A pitching, and the Pirates have taken it upon themselves to work with him and try to develop him into an offensive threat. 

Alex Presley will look to act as a fourth outfielder for the Pirates. Should Snider fail to develop, Presley would be splitting time with him in a platoon.

In the big leagues alone, that’s three players (Sanchez, Snider, Presley) who will either be taking at-bats from Tabata or competing for a full-time spot in the Pirates lineup.

That’s not even mentioning the outfield prospects the Pirates have stashed in the minors. Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell and Barrett Barnes are all high-upside players in the low-minors who could be knocking on the door to the big leagues in just a couple years (according to Jonathan Mayo, their major league ETAs are all 2015), especially the advanced bats of Polanco and Bell.

Needless to say, Tabata‘s future in Pittsburgh is pretty cloudy.

Enter Atlanta.

Tabata‘s fit with the Braves is pretty unquestionable. His speed and on-base skills would allow him to hit atop the Atlanta lineup, and his athleticism would allow him to play left field pretty well (especially with BJ Upton covering a fair amount of ground in center). 

Frank Wren would be taking a small gamble that Tabata would return to his performances of 2010 and 2011, but it’s one worth making, especially considering Tabata‘s long-term contract.

Tabata is owed just $1 million dollars in 2013, and still only $11.5 million from 2014-2016. After that, Atlanta would have two club options in 2017 and 2018.

Basically, if Tabata performs as he did in the closing stretch of 2012, he’ll be an absolute steal financially, and he could potentially bat leadoff and play left field for Atlanta for six years.

And at just 24 years of age, it’s very likely that Tabata and his right-handed bat bounce back better than ever.

He might not even cost that much in terms of prospects. Pittsburgh needs pitchers, and if he’s fallen out of favor in the Pittsburgh organization, he could probably be had for a mid-level arm, be it a starter or a reliever.

If the Pittsburgh brass still looks at Tabata the same way it did when Tabata was extended for six years, I’m not sure it would be out of line to dangle Randall Delgado. At worst, Atlanta could nab another prospect in addition to Tabata in return for Delgado.

Regardless, though, Tabata needs to be brought to Atlanta. He’s criminally affordable, under control, and a perfect fit atop the Braves lineup.

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