Coonelly chats with Bucs fans
Club president discusses team's decisions online
On Wednesday, Pirates team president Frank Coonelly talked with and answered questions for fans online. What follows is a transcript of the chat.
jm_bucsfan: Are the Pirates officially in a "rebuilding" mode now?
Coonelly: jm_bucsfan, the Pirates are continuing a "building" plan. That plan includes an aggressive international signing season this past July, an aggressive Draft in the First-Year Player Draft in June and obviously the recent trades we made to secure eight exciting young players who we believe will be an important part of our present and future.
schnoah2: It was said that the three-way trade with Boston, Pirates and Marlins that the Marlins said it was your fault, and we said it was their fault ... what really happened?
Coonelly: schnoah2, I am not sure that it is appropriate to attempt to place blame on any club. We ended up making a trade that we were very pleased with, so we don't feel a need to attempt to assess blame. That said, we were in a position in both Boston/L.A. and the Boston/Florida talks in which were dealing with Boston and Boston was attempting to secure from the other teams players that it would send to us.
So in some sense, we were not directly negotiating with clubs with whom we were going to receive players, and that made the negotiations somewhat more difficult. We had targeted two players from the Marlins who we felt we needed to secure in a trade involving Jason Bay. And we had targeted the two Dodgers players we ultimately received.
As I understand it, the Boston/Florida trade was not concluded not because of the players we were seeking but because of the money that Florida was seeking from Boston.
sonnie11: How does the team plan to use the $20 million-plus it will save by not having Matt Morris, Bay, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte on the 2009 roster?
Coonelly: sonnie11, We intend to invest budgeted payroll dollars on putting together the best Major League roster that we can assemble. We have nine players eligible for arbitration in 2009, including five players who are eligible for the first time and who all will receive significant raises. We also will, of course, evaluate the free-agent market and determine whether there are players who can help us win in 2009 and beyond.
bucsfan69_2: Why do we continue to develop young talent and then send it away when the players are in their prime? Is it solely based on salary?
Coonelly: bucsfan69_2, that is a question that I have been asked on several occasions over the last week. I cannot speak for past leadership, but I can tell you that it is not our intent to develop players so that we can trade them to other teams.
In fact, our plan is to develop premier players and then retain them in Pittsburgh for as long as we possibly can. We concluded that trading Nady, Marte and Bay at this time put us in the best position to build a championship caliber organization as soon as possible. Once we have a Minor League system with the type of depth that a Major League club needs, we won't be in a position where we have to acquire eight quality young players by trading three players over whom we had just 2 1/2 years of control.
In other words, once we have more talent in the system, we will not need to utilize our valuable veteran assets to acquire multiple players in return.
bay569: Who is up for arbitration on 2009?
Coonelly: bay569, the players are Adam LaRoche, Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, Jose Bautista, Denny Bautista, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Tyler Yates and John Grabow.
cybixler: Frank, when can we expect to see Tom Gorzelanny back in Pittsburgh?
Coonelly: cybixler, Tom has worked extremely hard in Indianapolis to regain the command and confidence that he showed last year and throughout most of his Minor League career. His last two outings were particularly encouraging. If Tom continues his progress, I believe that we will see him in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.
bobkipper51: Will the signing of [top pick Pedro] Alvarez affect the signing of the other unsigned top-10 picks? Your recent interview makes it sound as if Alvarez doesn't sign you'll be able to sign the others, but there's been little said about whether we'll sign the others if Alvarez signs.
Coonelly: bobkipper51, That is a good question. What I said in the interview was that the Pirates would be foolish to meet the unreasonable demands of an agent for one player, because -- among other reasons -- that would make it far more difficult if not impossible to sign other talented selections who we are attempting to sign. If we're able to sign Pedro at a figure that is consistent with the market for drafted players, we will have sufficient resources in our budget to sign several other drafted players we have targeted.
Another fan asked how we were doing on the Alvarez negotiations. We remain confident he wants to become a pro player this year and is excited to start his career with the Pirates. Unfortunately, it appears that the agents for several high choices have concluded that their best deals will come at the 11th hour, in this case late in the day on Aug. 15. That is certainly frustrating for an organization that is anxious to begin the development of a player that we view as a cornerstone moving forward, and I'm sure it is also frustrating for the players whose dreams are to become Major League players and whose progression to the Major Leagues is obviously delayed by such a tactic.
gjs867: Why should we sign Maholm long term, after just half a year of good pitching?
Coonelly: gjs867, I'm glad that you asked that question. I am not sure where Dejan [Kovacevic] received information that we had made a decision to offer a multiyear contract to Paul. Paul has been our most consistent starter this year and has demonstrated the type of command and aggressiveness in attacking the strike zone that we are looking for.
I did stress to Dejan that we will be evaluating our arbitration-eligible players and making decisions regarding which players we will approach to discuss signing them to potential multiyear contracts. We have not made any decisions regarding which players we will approach as of yet.
bucabing: Frank, is there a game plan for the organization to address Jose Tabata's reported attitude issues?
Coonelly: bucabing, the game plan is the same approach that we follow with all of our players in the organization. We expect every player wearing a Pirate or Pirate-affiliated uniform to conduct himself as a professional, and that means playing the game the right way, respecting the organization and respecting the fans that support our organization. [Pirates director of player development] Kyle Stark and his coordinators and coaches do a terrific job instilling these values in all of our young players.
77bucco: If you have to wait till the last hour, doesn't that make it impossible to get all of your top 10 [Draft picks] signed?
Coonelly: 77bucco, your question is a good one and that is why we have been working hard to sign well in advance of the last hour all of the players we have targeted.
As you know, it takes two parties to negotiate a contract, and it's been difficult to get the agents to the negotiating table. We will continue to attempt to sign as many as we can between now and Aug. 15 and hope that not all of the negotiations will take place in the last hour.
buccogrl81: With Doumit and McLouth both having a standout year, will you work hard at re-signing them? It would be a shame to lose those two.
Coonelly: buccogrl81, you are certainly right that Doumit and McLouth have been consistent producers all year long and are an important part of our present and future. As noted earlier, both players are eligible for arbitration for the first time following this season. We have said from the outset that -- in the right situations -- we will attempt to lock up our good young players to multiyear contracts that buy out one or more free-agent year. As I indicated earlier, we have not made decisions yet as to which players we intend to approach this offseason, but Ryan and Nate are certainly two strong candidates.
cybixler: Frank, you just said the trade of Nady, Marte, and Bay was to put you in the best position to build a championship caliber organization as soon as possible. Back in June, you were quoted as saying you thought the team could compete. Why the flip-flop?
Coonelly: cybixler, I feel like a politician when I say I don't believe I've engaged in a flip-flop. We said at the outset of this year that we wanted to give this team a chance to make a run at the postseason. We did that, but unfortunately our starting pitching has been such that, even with one of the top offenses in the NL, we were not in a position to challenge the Cubs, Brewers or Cardinals for a postseason berth. As our inability to replace injured or ineffective pitchers with quality replacements demonstrated, we need more talent in order to be competitive.
Had we done nothing at the Trade Deadline, we would have continued to be short of the type of talent necessary to be a championship- caliber team. We believe that we accelerated the day when we will return to being a championship-caliber team by adding eight quality players to our system, seven of whom were playing at Double-A or above and four of whom are now playing in Pittsburgh.
gjs867: Why wouldn't we overpay Alvarez?
Coonelly: gjs867, your question sounds like it may have been submitted on behalf of [agent] Scott Boras. We have been extremely aggressive in our efforts to sign Alvarez. We have been so aggressive that even our initial offer could meet some people's definition of "overpaying." We cannot, however, impair our ability to sign other drafted players, impair our ability to sign high Draft choices in 2009 and beyond or impair our ability to sign and retain our good young players like McLouth, Doumit and others, by simply giving every dollar that's available to this organization to one player who has never put on a professional uniform or taken a single at bat at the Major League level.
That would be irresponsible and would hamstring the organization for years to come. Pedro is an extremely talented player who has had a decorated amateur career, and we hope he will have a long and successful career with the Pirates.
shamtown: What would you say the chances of signing Alvarez are? If we can't sign high end Draft picks because of money, does it make sense to take them?
Coonelly: shamtown, all right this will have to be the last question of the day and, not surprisingly it is another question on the Alvarez negotiations.
It's impossible for me to place odds on our ability to sign Pedro. All I can say is that we very much want to sign him, and we continue to believe that he very much wants to sign with the Pirates. Returning for his senior year at Vanderbilt and coming out into the Draft as a senior with very little leverage or playing independent ball are not particularly attractive options for him, and while the third selection in the draft which we would receive as compensation if we are unable to sign Pedro is certainly a valuable asset, our strong preference is signing Alvarez this year.
We selected Pedro because he was, in our view, the best player available when we selected at No. 2. We believe that we can sign him, and we thought it was critical for us not to take a compromise or "safe" player. This is something that the organization has been accused of doing in the past. Whether this was the approach in the past or not is irrelevant. Our approach is to select the best player available when we Draft and to make every effort to sign him. We have sufficient resources to sign Pedro, consistent even with the escalated Draft values of today.
Coonelly: Thanks to all of you for joining us this month. We appreciate your passion for Pirates baseball.
pittguest: Thank you, everyone, for your participation. The next live Web chat with Frank is tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 3.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.