Results tagged ‘ Frank Coonelly ’
President Frank Coonelly stopped by to chat with the media for a few minutes this morning, just following the team’s morning meeting. Among the topics he discussed was the contract status of general manager Neal Huntington, who is in the final year of his deal. Coonelly said that Huntington has not had that contract extended, to this point.
So will Huntington be in Pittsburgh beyond 2011?
“He’s under contract for this season, and it’s our expectation that Neal will be here for a long time,” Coonelly said. “We’ll continue to evaluate it as we go forward.”
Coonelly was asked this same question about Huntington’s status at this time last year. In that instance, Coonelly said he preferred not to comment on contractual discussions. It came out later in the summer that, over the winter, Huntington had been given a one-year extension to his contract, which was set to expire after the 2010 season.
Other topics Coonelly addressed on Saturday…
On his expectations for the season: “I expect to see us compete. We’re all about doing. As Clint said to the guys in there today, trying hard isn’t good enough. This is a doing league and it’s time for us to start doing.”
On if there is an expectation that the record improves: “I sure hope so. I think that we’re poised to make a significant improvement. We don’t want to put any limits on ourselves in terms of putting a number out there. We don’t want to be limited by a number or a thought on February 19. The expectations with the club better be championship expectations. Then we’ll see where we are at the end of the season. I’m confident we’re going to be far better than we’ve been the last several years.”
On if money is available to make in-season additions, if competitive: “There are. We’ve said all along that we’re looking forward to the day that we need to make that decision and we’re prepared to make it and prepared to add players if we need some players to get over the hump.”
On his early observations of Camp Hurdle: “Lot of energy. Getting to know the guy. Good quality work. I’m very happy that most of the guys were in early getting work in. Good communication. Clint has the ability to let the players know that he cares about them. But he also expects things to be done right. The few times that I’ve been out here and things weren’t done right, we did it over again. And the players will also know when Clint is not pleased with the work ethic.”
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Ladies and gentleman, you have your closer.
Manager Clint Hurdle informed us after workouts today that Joel Hanrahan has been named the team’s closer to begin the season. This means, of course, that Evan Meek slots into a set-up role.
You can find the full story and reaction from both players here. Reading Meek’s face, the disappointment was evident. He wanted to close. Any good reliever does. I think he realizes that his chances will come (who knows how soon), but the competitor in him believes he is ready now. The question is, how will being passed up for this spot fuel his motivation for this year? We’ll find out soon enough.
As for the rest of your workout updates:
- Matt Diaz and Pedro Ciriaco are now accounted for in camp. Both worked out with the position players on Wednesday. That means we are missing just four position players — Alex Presley, John Bowker, Ronny Cedeno and Brian Friday.
- Jose Ascanio remains MIA as well due to visa issues. Word is that he might still get here as early as Thursday, though he has to wait for his passport to be returned. This delay certainly puts him behind the rest of the pitchers.
- Not that it is big news, but Hurdle strongly hinted that Joe Beimel will be the team’s left-handed set-up man. It’s probably best to compare Beimel’s situation to what D.J. Carrasco went through last year. Just as Carrasco signed a Minor League deal fully knowing he would be added to the roster, Beimel is here knowing that unless something crazy happens, he’s on the club.
- Keep an eye on the name Jose Veras. He is a non-roster invitee, but one who is turning heads early. His experience (176 Major League relief appearances) is something that is going to help his case for a bullpen spot.
- President Frank Coonelly attended workouts on Wednesday, before speaking to the Bradenton Boosters during a luncheon. Coonelly had been in Pittsburgh to attend Chuck Tanner’s viewing on Tuesday. Kent Tekulve has also arrived to help as an instructor. He, too, was at the viewing.
- A private funeral was held for Tanner in New Castle on Wednesday.
- Andrew McCutchen and first base/baserunning/outfield coach Luis Silverio spent considerable time together discussing baserunning. The two talked about McCutchen’s tendencies when he is getting ready to steal and his first step. Hurdle has said the team is going to be aggressive on the basepath this year, so baserunning will continue to be an emphasis throughout camp.
- The pitchers had their own baserunning session as well. They also all took time to practice squaring to bunt and then pulling back to hit. Other fielding drills were mixed in.
- Hitters were focused on situational hitting during batting practice today. Thus, we did not see as many home runs as we have in recent days.
- The following 15 pitchers threw their second side session on Wednesday: Paul Maholm, Kevin Correia, Hanrahan, Veras, Beimel, Aaron Thompson, Justin Wilson, Ross Ohlendorf, James McDonald, Evan Meek, Scott Olsen, Kyle McPherson, Rudy Owens, Michael Crotta and Jeff Locke.
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Three coaches from the Pirates’ 2010 staff said on Monday that they would consider returning to the organization next season under a new manager.
Shortly after the Pirates announced that John Russell had been removed as the team’s manager, hitting coach Don Long, third base coach Tony Beasley and interim bench coach Jeff Banister told MLB.com that they would welcome the opportunity to return to the Major League coaching staff and see the organization’s rebuilding process through.
General manager Neal Huntington left that door open, too, saying that the coaches would each be evaluated individually, with the possibility that they could be brought back. But since the Pirates’ next manager will have a significant say in hiring his coaching staff, no coaching decisions will be made until after that hire.
In the meantime, Huntington has told each coach that he is welcome to pursue other opportunities.
Reached at his home in Virginia, Beasley expressed a strong desire to return for a 19th season in the Pirates’ organization. He has spent the last three serving as the team’s third base coach and baserunning instructor.
Beasley is also under contract through the 2011 season, so that could be a factor as the organization assembles its next staff.
“I would definitely love to be back, especially with where we are with the young kids,” Beasley said. “I’d definitely love to be a part of that and a part of the growth. The process that we talked about is kind of coming to an end. I see that in the near future, and hopefully I can be a part of that. I know it’s out of my hands, but until I’m told otherwise, I hope to stay.”
Beasley said that Huntington spoke with members of the coaching staff during the team’s most recent road trip and informed them that the immediate future was uncertain for everyone.
“I’m willing to be patience and see how it works out,” Beasley said.
Like Beasley, Long was hired shortly after Russell was named manager in November 2007. Though the team finished last in the National League in batting average (.242) this season, Long has been credited by numerous players for the work he’s done with them over the past three seasons.
Most recently, he oversaw the rookie success of Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez. Two years ago, he helped Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth take significant strides forward in their approaches and swings.
“The competitive side of me says we started that process and we’ve been through major overhaul on the roster,” Long said. “We’ve gotten to the point that guys who you thought would have the chance to come up here did, and they showed big signs of what they’re capable of doing. I would want to see through.
“For the people on the outside looking in, the most dominant stat is the record,” he added. “But to watch a group of players – where there is a lot of youth and not a lot of experience – go from where they started to where they finished, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. People on the outside looking in can scoff at that. But for me, as a coach, the most important thing is you take care of the things you can take care of and one of those is how you prepare and how you show up.”
Long said a decision on his future will come after he spends some time with his family. He also said he realizes that returning might not even be an option in the end.
“I’m going to take some time to absorb it a little bit and then take some time to look at the options and what I want to do,” he said. “You never know, there is always the opportunity to stay. Or there is the potential that whoever they hire will want someone they are more familiar with. And I understand that.”
Banister joined the Major League staff as the club’s interim bench coach in early August, following the dismissal of Gary Varsho. He has been with the organization for the last 25 years and began his eighth season as the Pirates’ Minor League Field Coordinator earlier this year.
Though Banister may not retain his Major League coaching job, his rapport with players and coaches in the Minor League levels would seem to suggest that the Pirates would welcome having him return in some capacity. The Pirates, however, have not announced such a decision.
Asked if he would like to continue working with the organization, Banister said: “That’s an obvious yes. There’s a lot of guys I know very well who’ve come up through our system that are there. They’ve developed, they continue to develop. They’re not finished by any stretch of the imagination. I’d love to continue that if Neal, [president] Frank [Coonelly] and [owner] Bob [Nutting] allow that to happen.
“My passion is for this organization and where I think we can go and where I think we are going. It’s unfinished for me. Until somebody tells me they don’t need my services anymore, I’ll always feel that way. I grew up in this uniform and there are a lot of things I think we can and will do. I’m sure some people think we are a ways away. I see it every day, and I know we’re not that far away. There’s a really strong nucleus of talented athletes that take the field every day. There is some finishing that needs to go along with their Major League experience before they truly know what it takes to win on an every-day basis. Hopefully, I’m part of that, in whatever capacity that is.
The rest of Russell’s former staff included Luis Dorante (bullpen coach), Carlos Garcia (first base/infield coach) and Ray Searage (interim pitching coach).
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So yesterday turned out to be a much more eventful day than expected. Apologies for not writing the most insightful game recap on Sunday, but I spent the first half of the game talking finance with president Frank Coonelly and owner Bob Nutting. The session was called in advance of an AP story, which did come out late that evening.
In case you somehow missed yesterday’s big story, here is the recap piece to fill you in on all the details. I can tell you that we discussed a lot of accounting jargon in the session, and being that my dad is the accountant in the family, it took me a while to digest. My goal in the above story was to whittle the confusing wording down to simplistic ideas and explanations so that everything could be understood by the common person. I hope I succeeded in that attempt.
I have found the public reaction to the numbers/story to be interesting. I think some fans are glad to see actual figures (and a minimal profit), while others have an inability to believe anything the organization says. If you’re in the latter category, then I’ll never be able to report anything that appeases you. You might as well realize that now.
All I can say is that the organization had no reason to lie about the information given to us yesterday. Neither Coonelly, nor Nutting, ever wanted such figures to be made public — this is a private company, you know — and seemed somewhat uncomfortable doing so. However with the public backlash both receive almost daily, they hoped it would be beneficial. They also feared how the AP story could construe what they believed to be logical explanations of a 2008 payment to ownership.
In terms of the $5.4 million profit that the team made in 2009… some look at that and say it all should have been added to the Major League payroll. No questions asked. However, step back and think about your own personal finances.
Look at that $5.4 million as almost a savings account of sorts. I like to keep some additional money in my savings account at all times because I never know when something might come up where I have to dip into the fund. Unexpected costs arrise all the time, and if you are working with a savings account of $0, you’re going to be in trouble at some point.
That $5.4 million is around for that purpose. It’s not going to anyone in the ownership group. It’s a fund that is keeping the Pirates out of the red and ensures that they have the money when new costs arise. And really.. in the land of Major League baseball, $5.4 million isn’t all that much. Putting that into the payroll would not have sent this team over the top.
OK, enough finances 101 for the day. Now on to baseball, where the Pirates have the ability to affect St. Louis’ task of catching the division-leading Reds.
Lohse vs. PIT: 4-0 in 7 games, 46.1 IP, 37 H, 11 ER, 3 HR, 7 BB, 29 K
Ohlendorf vs. STL: 1-2 in 4 starts, 26 IP, 20 H, 8 ER, 2 HR, 3 BB, 22 K
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The Pirates reassigned catcher Erik Kratz to Minor League camp this morning, which makes Jason Jaramillo your backup catcher for the start of the season. Don’t assume that this means the dilemma of deciding if Jaramillo is better up backing up in the Majors or playing every day in the Minors. That debate will continue. And if Ryan Doumit stays healthy and Jaramillo gets scarce playing time, the Pirates might change course and send Jaramillo to the Minors at some point midseason.
For now, though, this is another roster decision to check off the list.
As for other early morning news…
- The club announced its planned Opening Day festivities and that entire release can be found here. Highlights include: Frank Coonelly will present the “Pride of the Pirates” award to a member of the organization; Andrew McCutchen will be honored for being named Baseball America’s Rookie of the Year; God Bless America will be performed by Pittsburgher and recording artist Sarah Marince; National Anthem will be perofmed by nine year old Jackie Evancho; First pitch will be thrown out by Jamie and Ali McMutrie, who were made national headlines for bringing Haitian orphans to Pittsburgh after the earthquake.
- All position players traveled to Lakeland today, which is an unusual thing to see in spring. The Pirates’ lineup is as it will be on Opening Day.
- Shortstop Ronny Cedeno (tightness in lower back) was in the lineup this morning and is no longer. I assume this means there is still some lingering tightness. He hasn’t played since Saturday.
- Asked if he was ready to name Jeff Clement the team’s Opening Day first baseman, GM Neal Huntington stopped short of giving a confirmation. His response: “He’s doing what he needs to do.”
- Reliever Joel Hanrahan will begin the season on the disabled list and will stay in Florida when the team leaves for Philadelphia tomorrow night. He will continue to pitch in extended Spring Training and then may join the organization’s Triple-A team when it begins its season on April 8. Whether Hanrahan joins Indianapolis to finish up his spring work will largely be dependent on the weather. The Indians begin the season in Columbus, Ohio.
- Wednesday will be Zach Duke’s final start before he takes the mound on Opening Day. He will be limited to about 60 pitches in order to ensure he’s fresh for Monday.
- Also sending a Happy Birthday to president Coonelly, who I heard was turning the big 50 today.
- Aki Iwamura (2B)
- Andrew McCutchen (CF)
- Garrett Jones (RF)
- Ryan Doumit (C)
- Lastings Milledge (LF)
- Jeff Clement (1B)
- Andy LaRoche (3B)
- Zach Duke (LHP)
Ronny Cedeno(SS) Bobby Crosby
Pitchers: Duke, Brendan Donnelly, Evan Meek, Jack Taschner
- Ryan Raburn (CF)
- Johnny Damon (DH)
- Magglio Ordonez (RF)
- Miguel Cabrera (1B)
- Carlos Guillen (LF)
- Gerald Laird (C)
- Scott Sizemore (2B)
- Ramon Santiago (3B)
- Adam Everett (SS)
Pitchers: Justin Verlander, Phil Coke, Brad Thomas, Fu-Te Ni, Jose Valverde
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It was the first day of full squad workouts here at Pirate City and the sun certainly came out to greet the masses. As you’ll read on the main site, the day started with a 9 a.m. meeting in which all 66 players listened to president Frank Coonelly and owner Bob Nutting speak.
This will fill you in the rest of the day’s activities:
- Right-hander Octavio Dotel sat out of workouts on Tuesday because of a sore left side. The injury isn’t expected to keep him out of action for more than a few days. Let’s hope.
- On a related note, we (a handful of writers) got a taste of what to expect from Dotel this season. Seeing that he wasn’t out on the field, we went to go track him down in the clubhouse. When Dotel was asked about a potential injury, he told one writer that it was a right knee issue that would keep him out for a few days. Writer No. 2 was told a minute later that it was a left knee injury, and that he would be back tomorrow. Huh? Minutes later, Dotel came back into the room laughing, telling us that he had pulled a fast one over us. He had no knee injury. It was an issue with his side. Good thing none of us had pulled out our phone to tweet. I’ll remember that for the future…
- Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski has arrived in Bradenton and spent the day working with the team’s infielders. Former Pirates manager Chuck Tanner also made his first Spring Training appearance and spent much of the day sitting on a golf cart signing autographs for fans.
- Infielders, outfielders and catchers spent about 30 minutes on defensive drills on Tuesday. And you can tell what the depth chart looks like by how they were divided. On the first field of infielders were Jeff Clement and Garrett Jones (1B); Akinori Iwamura and Ramon Vazquez (2B); Ronny Cedeno and Bobby Crosby (SS); Andy LaRoche and Pedro Alvarez (3B). On the second field, you had Steve Pearce and Brian Myrow (1B); Argenis Diaz and Delwyn Young (2B); Brian Friday (SS); Doug Bernier and Neil Walker (3B).
- Vazquez (right knee) continued to take grounders right at him but did not participate in fielding drills that required side-to-side movement. He was cleared to take BP for the first time, though.
- At this time last year, all of us were enthralled with “Camp Perry.” Infield instructor Perry Hill was an extremely vocal presence on the field and could be heard yards away. It’s a little quieter this year, and manager John Russell apparently noticed. “It’s OK to talk,” he quipped as he came to observe infield drills. “Let’s act like we’re having some fun.”
- A total of 15 pitchers threw side sessions on Tuesday. One person who looked remarkedly more comfortable was Brendan Donnelly, who talked afterward about feeling out of sync during his first two times on the mound.
- Pitchers will begin throwing live BP on Wednesday. They will throw two innings (one inning consists of 17 pitches). Half of the pitches will be from the windup and half from the stretch. The only exception to the two-inning deal is for Donnelly, who will throw one inning of 25 pitches.
- Players have all sorts of to-do items this week as things get going. The people who take all the photos and film the clips for the video board at PNC Park are here to get all of that done before games start next week. Each player goes up into a makeshift studio one-by-one to be filmed. There’s also media awareness training going on this week. The 20-minute session will introduce players to who we are and hopefully they’re told to be nice.
- Excuse the shameless plug here, but Pirates PR guy Dan Hart has been busy with the flip cam all spring and has all sorts of great footage and interviews that he’s putting on the site. You can find Dan’s videos on the top right-hand side of pirates.com. I would really recommend checking them out. There was a nice one on Ryan Doumit yesterday and a piece on Brad Lincoln that was posted today. I just wanted to make sure that Dan’s work wasn’t going unnoticed.
- MLB Network is doing its “30 Clubs in 30 Days” series again this spring. The Pirates will be featured on March 7 at 5 p.m.
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Pirates president Frank Coonelly and owner Bob Nutting were in Bradenton on Tuesday to address players prior to Tuesday’s workout. You’ll find a story on the main site about what that message was specifically.
However, on an aside, both were asked afterward if there had been given any thought to extending the contracts of either general manager Neal Huntington or manager John Russell. The two are each in the final years of their contracts. Russell has a club option remaining (you’ll remember that he had the first of those two club options exercised about this time last year). Huntington’s contract is not believed to have an option attached.
Neither Coonelly, nor Nutting, would discuss the possibility of Russell or Huntington being extended, though Coonelly did reiterate a “vote of confidence” in both. Here are those comments:
Coonelly: “I have a strong vote of confidence for both Neal and JR, but we’re not going to discuss contractual situations. I don’t believe those are productive.”
Nutting: “I really believe that any organization is built on stability. They’re not built on speculation. They’re built on people who are performing effectively. I have a lot of faith in the leadership team that’s put in place – both on the field and in the front office. That’s something that’s not a great topic for Spring Training. What you have is a solid leadership group with full support of the organization moving forward. Again, I believe that stability is much more important that second-guessing or speculation.”
What these responses do not provide are answers to whether or not the results (specifically a won-loss record) in 2010 will dictate the job security of Russell or Huntington next season. It’s something to keep an eye on as the year progresses.
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It was nice of the sunshine to come out after the fields at Pirate City had been cleared. But regardless, it seemed to be another successful day of workouts for the club. You’ll find stories about Jeff Clement (is he making progress at first?) and the back-up catching job (yes, it is a competition) on the main site before the end of the day. But here are the rest of your tidbits for this Saturday…
- The group of 14 pitchers that threw side sessions on Thursday had their second sides today. (Go back to your Day 1: Daily Squeeze if you want that list in full.)
- Pitchers spent another 40 minutes in fielding drills, while infielders and outfielders had their own fielding practice as well.
- After taking some groundballs at second base on Friday, Neil Walker was back with the third baseman for Saturday’s infield drills.
- Garrett Jones joined the first baseman in infield practice. He’s going to get reps both at first and in the outfield. While he’s projected to be the Pirates’ starting right fielder, there could be a need to shift Jones back to first if Jeff Clement stumbles.
- Delwyn Young arrived at Pirate City on Saturday and took the fields for workouts. He took grounders at second. Ryan Church and Aki Iwamura also went out on the fields with position players for the first time. Remember, the first full squad workout isn’t until Tuesday.
- Pirates president Frank Coonelly was seen around the Pirate City grounds mingling with fans. He also took some time to observe the pitchers’ side sessions.
- We (the media) had a lengthy session with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan after workouts, and you’ll see stuff from him spread out in stories over the next couple of days. One thing worth mentioning here, though, is the Pirates’ plan on getting Brendan Donnelly and Octavio Dotel ready for the season. Kerrigan said the plan isn’t to get them into Grapefruit League games immediately and to limit their work to about 11-12 innings in total. Because they are both experienced pitchers, there isn’t the same need to push Donnelly and Dotel as hard as early.
- A couple of Kerrigan’s goals this spring are to help Brad Lincoln improve his changeup and to work with D.J. Carrasco to make him more effective against left-handed hitters. Lefty hitters batted .317 against Carrasco in 2009.
- In case you missed it, here was a piece I did yesterday on Kevin Hart and his battle to win the final spot in the rotation. Kerrigan had this to say about Hart today: “He’s done really well this winter. He’s put a lot of hard work in. He’s been really impressive. He looks like he’s been [using that delivery motion] for a while. Last year it looked a little raw, a little rough. This year it has more of a flow to it. He’s dancing with it. He looks smooth now. There is no jerkiness. It looks natural to him now. He’s been downhill instead of flat.”
- Workouts are scheduled to begin around 10 a.m. again on Sunday.
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First off, thanks to you PirateFest-goers for keeping the questions much briefer than yesterday. Made my life easier. Here are some of the highlights from president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington, manager John Russell as best as I could frantically transcribe. In my opinion, the questions seemed to be more thoughtful (in other words: less ranting and raving) than on Friday, and the tone of fans seemed more tempered than on Friday for what’s that worth.
And in case you missed it, Friday’s Q-and-A session is typed out further below in the blog.
Can you respond to the report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Saturday that Penguins owner Ron Burkle is interested in purchasing the Pirates?
Coonelly: The Pirates are not for sale. Bob Nutting is committed to this organization.Your next question might be why would Mario [Lemieux] and Rob be interested in purchasing the Pirates? I’m not surprised at all. They are good business people. What they see in the Pirates, if they’re interested in purchasing, is that the Pirates have financial stability. They are saying this would be a sound business investment. The team is not for sale. It’s not going to be for sale. Bob is determined to bring a championship back to Pittsburgh and see this process through.
How can this team win if the revenue-sharing dollars aren’t being put back into the club?
Coonelly: Your facts are not right. Our payroll last year was well in excess of what we received in revenue-sharing profits. In addition to that, our Major League payroll is only a small portion of what we spend. We spend far in excessive of what we receive in revenue sharing every year.
With such a young roster, where is veteran leadership coming from and isn’t there value to having players that know how to win?
Russell: We brought in some veteran guys – Dotel, Donnelly, Crosby. They know how to win. We also have some guys who have been here – Maholm, Duke, Doumit. They aren’t young puppies anymore. They have been here for years. We have guys that have that leadership quality. If you listened to guys earlier, you’ll hear them talking about the team and pushing each other and helping each other. We have a great mix here with the talent we have and what’s coming and the veterans we added. Let’s not forget about Maholm, Duke and Doumit because this is their team, too.
Huntington: Part of the mindset is the balance of the roster. There is a nice balance here. As this core group comes together, it’s going to be more expensive. My first exposure in baseball was with the Montreal Expos. I don’t want to criticize them, but they’re not in existence anymore. Those owners were committed to putting every single dollar to the Major League payrolls. Bob [Nutting] is taking criticism because of the decisions that Frank and I have made. To be successful in these markets, you have to build with core players from within.
Would you be interested in being Commissioner of Baseball?
Coonelly: No, I really have no interest in being the Commisioner of baseball. My interest is in Pittsburgh and turning this around.
Do you think that your previous position in MLB has kept the heat off the Pirates for having a low payroll [reference to the Marlins being called out for their use of revenue-sharing dollars]?
Coonelly: We have been investing our revenue-sharing dollars in the baseball operations department. There hasn’t been one single request for money that Bob [Nutting] hasn’t delivered on. Every team that receives revenue-sharing dollars, you have to provide a report to baseball on how you used it. I think that’s why we haven’t heard from that and not because of my relationship.
How can we know that core players aren’t going to continue being traded away?
Huntington: The toughest part is we deal with media leaks all the time. The best thing might have been if the Nate McLouth deal had leaked out because it became a shock. Our return for Nate McLouth was three players that we felt had the upside to be better than Nate McLouth long term. It may not turn out to be that way. We’re not going to find a No. 1 or 2 starter on the free agent market. We’re going to have to trade for them or sign and develop them. Charlie Morton is an exciting player. Gorkys Hernandez is a great fit for our ballpark. We really like Jeff Locke. This is a franchise-changing trade. I understand the message that it sent. In this day and age, players come and go. Our goal is to produce a winning team. This is a group that we look forward to moving ahead with. There will still be some trades, but the mass exodus is behind us. We’ve built the farm system stronger than it’s been in a long time and maybe ever.
What will the veteran pitchers teach some of the younger ones?
Russell: I think the biggest thing a veteran guy can do is show how to handle the highs and lows of the game. That’s one thing a veteran player can help a younger player. That’s some of the things we’re expecting from Paul and Doumit and some of the guys we’ve brought in.
Can you talk to us about the talent in the Minor League system?
Huntington: We’re excited about a lot of the arms we added in last year’s Draft and about Tony Sanchez. Tony really did some great things for us last year. The Carolina League championship team, as they headed into the postseason it was Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens who stepped up and won big games for them in the stretch. We’ve got too many arms, candidly, at the Single-A level. We’re going to have to piggy-back guys because we have too many good arms that we are excited about developing.
Starling Marte is a sensational five-tool outfielder. Chase D’Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, Colton Cain, Jarek Cunningham, Robbie Grossman, Quinton Miller… there are a lot of names that I could rattle off. The deepest teams are going to be the West Virginia and Lynchburg [now Bradenton] club as we move forward.
What’s your reaction to Baseball America ranking the Pirates’ Minor League system 16th heading into 2010?
Huntington: We were surprised by that. Last year we were carried by Andrew McCutchen and we lost that impact player. That’s what most of these rankings are based on — impact guys. We thought we’d be ranked better. We don’t rely on their rankings. It’s interesting to know that as Top 30 lists were being put together, we were talking about 40-50 players where as a few years ago we were trying to find 20 players. We’re a Starling Marte or Zack Von Rosenberg breakout year from really moving up.
Coonelly: It’s also important to note that at 16, it’s higher than we’ve been in six years.
The Penguins have become a Championship team by being smart in Drafts, while the Pirates haven’t done the same thing. Isn’t that what has to be done?
Coonelly: Part of the frustration fans feel here is that as the Steelers have won Super Bowls, the Penguins all of a sudden win a Championship shortly after the salary cap is introduced – the natural conclusion is that salary cap equals a championship in Pittsburgh. How did the Pens get there? The salary cap helps, but it doesn’t equal championships.
The Penguins had high Draft choices and they utilized those well. They also got lucky and won the Sidney Crosby lottery. And in two years, they managed to have access to two of the three best players in the league.
The Pirates never did that [in previous management], you’re right. We came in here and said we will take the best player available. We agree. We did that with Pedro Alvarez. Last year was different. We were selecting No. 4 rather than No. 2. If we were selecting No. 2 last year, we would have taken Dustin Ackley. We would have allocated that money to a Stephen Strasburg or Ackley. After we got past those two players, we didn’t see any other players that we saw it beneficial to allocate $6-7 million on one player. What we saw was a player in Tony Sanchez that we value much higher than Baseball America did. Tony Sanchez would have never gotten to the bottom half of the first round. He would have gone somewhere around No. 10 or No. 12. His first year answered a lot of questions about his bat. He’s a terrific leader and a great catcher. What it allowed us to do was let us be extraordinarily aggressive after the first round. Von Rosenberg, Cain, Dodson’s, all those guys are very high on the list. We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to sign all those players if all our money had been allocated to the first-round of the Draft.
Where do you anticipate LHP Rudy Owens starting the year?
Huntington: Rudy has the chance to make the Altoona roster out of ST, but realistically he’ll probably start in high-A because he only had a few starts there last year. If he goes there and does well, there’s no reason why we can’t move him at the mid-season point. We are known to be a conservative group.
How do you prove that the Pirates are committed to international investments when you weren’t able to sign Miguel Sano?
Huntington: I can feel your frustration. [insert the answer that Huntington gave in Friday's Q-and-A, which is printed below].
Last year you said that if Stephen Strasburg dropped to No. 4 in the Draft, you would take him. Can you say the same about Bryce Harper if he drops to No. 2 this year?
Huntington: No. There’s light years difference in the two players. Stephen Strasburg is an advanced college pitcher, arguably the best amateur college pitcher ever. We applaud the Washington Nationals for selecting him and are a little bit envious.
We like Bryce Harper, but I can’t tell you Bryce Harper is right now in our Top 10. He’s getting a lot of hype and publicity. I almost feel bad for the guy because he’s going to have to live up to being the next LeBron James.
We will scout Bryce Harper, we will put him on the board and if he’s the right player, we’ll take him. We’re not just going to pick a player because publications like him. We’ll select the player that we think is best when we pick.
Would life be easier if there was no Scott Boras?
Huntington: Scott Boras is an incredible advocate for his players. If you’re an elite talent and you know where you want to play, he usually gets it done.
With Jeff Clement having the upper hand for the first base job, does Steve Pearce even have a chance?
Russell: We’ve made it very clear that we’d like Jeff to show us that he is capable of playing first base. I think he can. We’re very intrigued with the bat. But we’re not giving jobs away. Guys still have to play. I don’t just give jobs to guys. I think Clement is going to be a nice addition for us, but by no means does that erase Steve Pearce. We’re not closing the door on Steve Pearce. He’ll be given every opportunity to hopefully make our club.
Does Neil Walker have a chance to make the team this spring?
Huntington: Neil has made a lot of progress. He struggled a little bit earlier, but did come on stronger. I think Neil still has some development. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a chance to make our club, but he still has development. He needs to continue to work on his approach at the plate. We’re excited to have Neil in our system. I’m not closing the door on Neil at Spring Training. Maybe we’ll move him around this year. We’ll look at our options as Spring Training goes on.
Could the Pirates make a run at remaining free agents whose prices might drop?
Russell: I’m kind of excited to see Pedro Alvarez in Pittsburgh at some point. I’m excited to see Jose Tabata in Pittsburgh at some point. I’m excited to see Brad Lincoln and Starling Marte. If we sign guys then we block some of our younger players. We talked about this. We feel good about the club we have now.
Was there any thought to trying sign Ben Sheets?
Huntington: We did our due diligence. We read the medicals. We watched him throw. There was a point in time where we would have committed to him, but at $10 million, we felt that was an excessive gamble for us.
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Pirates management — president Frank Coonelly, manager John Russell and general manager Neal Huntington – just answered a variety of questions at the PirateFest Q-and-A session, which is always one of the most anticipated events at the yearly baseball carnival. Before getting to the highlights, here’s a few things to keep in mind.
Note No. 1: I can only type so fast, so I promise that the transcription of this Q-and-A is 87 percent word-for-word. I tried to furiously type as questions were being asked/answered, but I can only be so quick.
Note No. 2: For those of you who plan on attending Saturday’s session and asking something, please keep the questions short. I’m sure you have vast baseball knowledge or want to make sure your point is heard or want to sound smarter than the next person, but when a question becomes a dissertation, no one follows you. Just saying…
Note No. 3: I paraphrased the questions. Thank me later. And not every question was able to make it in here. Please forgive me.
Why will results change in 2010?
Russell: A lot of the guys last year, even though they had very good individual seasons, they were trying to establish themselves as Major League players. Unfortunately, that’s not really conducive to team baseball. Now the players are really looking forward to playing as a team.
What capital improvements have been made to improve this team?
Coonelly: There are two types of investments you make in a ballclub – operating expenses and long-term investments. The new facility in Bradenton was a huge capital investment. Then we moved to the Dominican Republic where we were renting one sub-standard field and built one of the best academies in the Dominican Republic. That really gives us a competitive advantage in Latin America. Recently, we purchased a Class A team in Sarasota and moved it to Bradenton. That keeps them right in the hub of all our baseball activity. We have made virtually all of our major investments on the baseball operations side because we knew that’s where we had to improve this organization to return to a championship-caliber organization.
Will there ever be a salary cap?
Coonelly: We still have to ask for patience because the only way to build this the right way is to build from within. The good news is we’re two years into it and we’re getting there. In terms of will we stand up to the large-market clubs? It really isn’t a question of an inability or unwillingness to stand up to large market clubs. The rest of the industry is on our side that it would benefit us all that there were some payroll regulation. Our issues is it’s a subject of collective bargaining. The Pirates are certainly pushing internally for changes in collective bargaining [which expires at end of 2011 season]. In the meantime, we have to win under this system. It’s tougher. You have to be more creative. You might not be able to make the mistakes other clubs do, but it can be done.
How did you not sign Miguel Sano?
Coonelly: We were disappointed that we didn’t sign Miguel Sano. Miguel is a 16 1/2 year baseball player, however. It’s no sure thing that he’s going to be an impact player. The Pirates weren’t putting out that we were interested in Miguel Sano. That was the local press. We did really like Miguel and did really want to sign him. The good news is that we were in the game for the first time. We were never in the game for a player who was looking for $250,00 out of Latin America before. We were in the game, but this may be the one time where we were overly aggressive. We wanted the player too much. We moved too quickly. Normally if you wait until July 5 to sign the player you want to sign, he’s already signed. [Signing period begins on July 2]. We wanted to get the player signed immediately and we were aggressive. We understand the importance of Latin America. We will continue to be in the game.
Huntington: I didn’t get it done, quite simply. I relied on the agent to live on his word, which was that he would come back to us after another offer was made. We were the only team that made an offer to him on July 2. We were told he wasn’t ready to sign and that the agent would come back to us when he was ready to sign. We were told that when other issues were resolved, he would be ready to negotiate. We made another aggressive offer, bidding against ourselves. Once again, the agent said we’re not ready to negotiate. We never got a chance to offer our highest bid.
What to do if there’s a logjam at third base?
Huntington: We may make a position change. We may trade players. As we sit here right now, we have one Major League third baseman and that’s Andy LaRoche. As we plan for the future, sure we have ideas about what we’d like to do. But to move a player just because we think somebody is coming isn’t smart. It’s a great sign for the organization when you have too much depth and you have to trade a player. We’ll put contingency plans in place for when we have more than one Major League third baseman.
What challenges could it bring if Pedro Alvarez comes up mid-season?
Russell: It’s a good problem to have. Basically, that’s what we’re striving for. You want quality players, quality depth. You can’t look that far ahead because baseball is a funny game. Pedro is obviously a great player. If he does come here, at this point, we’ll make a decision. As a manager, those are fun decisions to make because I’ll have two quality players.
Can we begin to evaluate some of the recent trades and who among those players is closest to making a significant contribution?
Huntington: The true evaluation on those trades will take years. Statistically, we can project all we want on these players, but to predict the human element is almost impossible. We’ve gone through a talent accumulation mode. It’s my job to give John Russell and our Major League staff a better group of players. We need to give them better players.
Why did you commit money to free agents this offseason if you’re still projected to have a losing season?
Huntington: Closers get paid based on saves in the arbitration process. We tried to retain Matt Capps. We weren’t able to come to an agreement that we thought was fair. We have contractual control for the same amount of years with Octavio Dotel as we do with Capps. If Octavio Dotel and Matt Capps have similar years, Dotel will cost us less money next year than Capps would have. Brendan Donnelly is going to help us shorten a baseball game and help us off the field. In Ryan Church’s case, Ryan gives us insurance that is better than what we had in our minds. The [$5 million] dollars invested in real-world dollars a ton of money. In baseball terms, they are very small investments. It didn’t take away our ability to invest in other players. Those moves were done because we felt like it gave us a better team on the field.
Coonelly: We think that this young core is going to come together. We’re not calling it 70 wins and let’s be done. We want to give them a chance to succeed. We need these young guys to know that these games are going to be closed out at the end. We want to give manager Russell a chance to win these games.
Did you consider getting a veteran starter this offseason?
Huntington: We talked about Jon Garland, Vicente Padilla, Braden Looper. But when we talked about what they would bring and what we had internally, we felt like it was a better investment to give those innings to the winner of the Kevin Hart – Daniel McCutchen battle in Spring Training to let them develop. It’s always a balance between the present and the future. We felt it was a better use of our innings to let these guys develop.
Who is in competition for fifth rotation spot?
Russell: We feel good about our rotation. Charlie Morton in my opinion, he’s going to be fun to watch. This guy’s got tremendous stuff. In my opinion, we’re looking for a fifth starter to step up. We have Kevin Hart, who is a fierce competitor and is going to do everything he can. We have Daniel McCutchen. We have depth. We’ve got guys who can come up and help us win games. We’re very excited about our rotation.
It seems that there was a lack of plate discipline last year. Are you doing anything to cut down on strike outs and make more productive outs?
Russell: I think our plate discipline has improved since we first got here. When you have young players, plate discipline is going to change a little bit. It takes time. It’s tough to really change a guy in a short period of time. If he’s a 20 percent strikeout guy in the Minor Leagues, he’s a 20 percent strikeout guy in the Majors. Yes, you can change that. But it takes some time. I do think our guys have done a better job. We can do it. With young players, maintaining it is sometimes more difficult than we may like.
Huntington: Church and Iwamura are both players that are tough outs. Part of it is bringing in players with a proven track record. In the Minors, it’s selective aggressiveness. A walk is a result, not a goal. We’re not going up looking for a walk. We’re going up looking for our pitch to drive. If we don’t get it, we have to learn to lay off.
Why not get someone for Matt Capps instead of letting him go?
Huntington: In Matt’s case, it was a tough one. His highest value was when we came aboard at the end of 2007. We had an opportunity to essentially trade him for a warm body [early in 2009] and chose to hold him because we figured he would bounce back in the second half. He didn’t have much of a value at the trade deadline. When we realized we weren’t going to be able to come to an agreement, we did make an effort to trade him. No one wanted to risk paying him and give something up for him. No team is going to give up a prospect and pay him that.
Will the organization eventually overpay for talent to keep them in Pittsburgh?
Coonelly: I’m more likely to overpay than Neal. Are we likely to overpay for talent? No. You shouldn’t want us to overpay because every million we overpay player A is not available to us for Player B, C, and D. You should want a smart management team that puts together it’s team most effectively and efficiently. I object to overpaying. I don’t object to a plan of keeping your core players in the organization as long as you can. You should want us to be a smart management team that isn’t throwing away money on one player.
Huntington: What’s exciting about 2010 and beyond is that you hear the optimism, you hear the excitement about the bonds being formed because for the first time in a while, these guys feel like they’re going to be around here for a while. We need to build around this group of players. The reality is that no team keeps all of its player. Baseball has become roster turnover. It’s important to keep your core together, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep players in Pittsburgh that want to stay in Pittsburgh. To overpay, we’re not going to overpay. But are we going to be aggressive to keep players in Pittsburgh? Absolutely.
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