Young Pirate might not be so young

Remember a couple of Julys ago, when the Pirates traded a couple of veterans to the Yankees and got four prospects in return? The plum was Jose Tabata, who was then struggling in Double-A but was just 19 and had impressed scouts since signing with the Yankees at 16.

Or not:

    The Pirates are not publicly disputing Tabata's age, and yet ...

    "All of the documentation he has used to obtain his visa from the U.S. government and his passport from the Venezuelan government indicates his reported age is accurate," Huntington said in an e-mail to the Tribune-Review. "Apart from unfounded speculation, there is nothing to indicate his age any different than reported. My point is that while we have reason to doubt his reported age, it is a non-issue to us."

    Even if Tabata should have three or four more candles on his birthday cake, he's still considered a top prospect. But how good he is, to a degree, does depend on his age.

Huntington is whistling past the graveyard.

According to his passport, Tabata turned 21 last August. At the time, he was playing for Triple-A Indianapolis. He wasn't playing particularly well, but well enough for a newly minted 21-year-old. If he turned 23 or 24, though? Well then he's just another prospect who might or might not wind up with an everyday job someday.

Considering that the Pirates can't win without young players both cheap and good, and that Tabata was supposedly one of the youngest and the best of their young players, the notion that Tabata's age doesn't matter just isn't supportable. What the Pirates are trying to do, can be done. But the margin for error is exceptionally small. And trading for a 20-year-old who's actually 23 -- if that's what the Pirates did in 2008 -- was an error. Oh, and it would make what I wrote here look pretty silly.