Management Q-and-A, Take 2
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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