Pirates president Frank Coonelly participated in his monthly live online chat with Pirates fans on Wednesday. During the chat, Coonelly answered questions about the search for a new manager, the status of the coaching staff, potential offseason free agent signings to supplement the club's core of talented young players, and more. The complete chat transcript follows.
Coonelly: Hello, Pirates fans, and thank you for joining me for today's chat. Let's get things started.
kristyr: There are rumors that Andy Van Slyke was interviewed for the managerial job. Can you confirm or deny this? And besides Eric Wedge, can you discuss any other potential candidates?
Coonelly: kristyr, I am not sure how that rumor started, but it is not true. To date, the only candidate that we have interviewed has been Eric Wedge. We will announce to our fans each candidate that we interview at the completion of that interview. Out of respect for the process, we will not be commenting further on the substance of individual interviews until a manager is selected. I know that all Pirates fans are intensely interested in who the next manager of the club will be and we are intensely focused in selecting the person who can help lead the Major League team to the championship-caliber club that all Pirates fans desire.
realist1: Mr. Coonelly, does the front office have a set number for how many people will be interviewed for the managerial opening?
Coonelly: There is no set number of candidates that we are looking to interview. We were able to schedule an interview with Eric Wedge yesterday and did so immediately because Eric is a very qualified candidate who is also having discussions with other clubs. We are early in our process of compiling a complete list of candidates to consider. Once that complete list is compiled, we will have a better sense of the number of candidates to move to the next step of the interview process. Our focus is to consider all qualified candidates so that we find the right person to lead this young club.
jabram: The team made some improvements and showed some growth, but has a glaring lack of starting pitching going into 2011. Convince me why I should renew my season tickets based upon the organization's plans to improve the pitching situation.
Coonelly: jabram, we agree that, despite what was an incredibly frustrating and disappointing season, a solid core of position players have emerged that showed growth in the system and are players about whom we are excited moving forward. For the second consecutive year, we had multiple players -- this year Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez -- who should receive serious consideration for top rookie honors. I also agree that our pitching, particularly our starting pitching, was extremely poor and made it difficult for this team to win on a consistent basis. Fortunately, a strength of our Minor League system is the starting pitching that helped the Altoona Curve win the Eastern League this year, particularly Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris and Jeff Locke. While the strong performances of these young pitchers bode well for our rotation in the near future, it is far from certain that any of them will be ready to join the rotation out of Spring Training. As a result, we will look to add starting pitching this offseason, either through the free agent market or the trade market. James McDonald obviously was a bright spot after joining the rotation in August and Ross Ohlendorf, who pitched much better than his record would otherwise indicate, will be ready to rejoin the rotation in the spring. Our fans, including season-ticket holders like yourself, should know that one of Neal Huntington's highest priorities this offseason is to improve the pitching staff.
macchamp74: Was the outfield shift employed at the beginning of the year dictated to John Russell and will the new manager be told how to employ defenders also?
Coonelly: I have seen suggestions that lineups, batting orders, and even defensive positioning was dictated this season by the GM. That was not the case. Neal and his staff provide information, including detailed and sophisticated statistical information, to the manager and coaching staff. Neal would not be doing his job if he didn't provide the on-field staff with the best information available. Neal did not, however, dictate who played, where they batted or where they were positioned in the field.
ajt123: Do you see any of the current coaches being retained by the new manager?
Coonelly: There are quality baseball men and quality individuals on our coaching staff who are highly valued by the organization. I certainly can foresee members of last year's staff having a role on the staff in 2011 or otherwise within the organization. In fairness to the staff members, Neal informed them that they were free to explore other opportunities. But he also told them that they were highly valued by the organization and that we would working hard to select a new manager as expeditiously as possible so that we could provide them with a definitive answer in terms of their role with the Pirates.
jawagner: Frank, are there any plans to move Pedro Alvarez, whose defense was suspect at times, to first base and sign a free-agent third baseman?
Coonelly: There are no current plans to move Pedro to first base. Our focus remains putting Pedro in a position to stay at third base for his entire career. Pedro made several above-average-to-spectacular plays at third base this season but, at the same time, struggled at times. While this is not unexpected for a player in his first Major League season, we need Pedro and the rest of our fielders to play superior defense if we are going to play winning baseball. Pedro understands the importance of conditioning to his ability to stay at third base and we are confident that he will work extremely hard this offseason to put himself in a position to be an above-average defender at third base. As we have said, Pedro has all of the physical tools necessary to be an above-average defensive third baseman, and he is much more valuable to our organization if he is able to stay there. Pedro's aspirations are aligned with ours in that he views himself as a third baseman and is determined to demonstrate that he should stay at third base. As you look at the list of free-agent players eligible this offseason, it is much easier to find a quality bat who can play first base on the free-agent market.
pirate0821: Will you be active in free agency this offseason? This team has some good pieces and a few good moves would be huge!
Coonelly: As we have stressed from the outset, it is critical to our success that we are able to build from within the organization. That is why we have invested so heavily in the amateur Draft and the international free-agent market. Over the last three years, we have spent more money in the Draft than any other Major League club. Our investments are bearing fruit, as impact talent is now moving up through our system. While winning at the Minor League level is not always indicative of superior talent, the fact that we won a championship at High-A Lynchburg in 2009, another championship at Double-A Altoona last year, and made the postseason with our High-A club in Bradenton this year -- all with age-appropriate players -- reflects tremendous progress in upgrading our talent level and putting us in a position to continue to promote to Pittsburgh impact players like Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker. Having said that, the free-agent market is an area where we will look to supplement core players developed in our system. We have the capacity to meaningfully increase our payroll in 2011 and we plan to aggressively pursue players who can fill needs that we have as we move into 2011. The aggressive pursuit of free-agent players, of course, does not guarantee that we will be able to secure the players in whom we have an interest, but we are committed to improving this club and will be aggressive in our pursuit.
Coonelly: One more question for today ...
buccos1450: What was the team payroll in 2010, and will you increase it in 2011?
Coonelly: Our payroll in 2010 was $44 million, which was principally a function of the fact that we have such a young roster. As I have said previously, we have the capacity to meaningfully increase the payroll for 2011, and will do so if we are able to bring in players who can help us win. As the teams who are currently playing in the postseason this year demonstrate, however, winning is a function of talent, determination and execution, and not the size of a club's payroll. Four of the eight postseason clubs this year have payrolls in the bottom half of the industry, and six of the eight playoff teams rank 10th or below in terms of payroll this year. San Diego, with the lowest payroll in baseball, was in contention until the last day of the season. There is no doubt in my mind that the Pirates can compete for a championships without being in the upper tier in the league in payroll. No one in this organization has or will ever use payroll limitation as an excuse for not winning. There are, each year, far too many examples of clubs that have built playoff teams through excellent scouting and player development to allow us to use payroll as a crutch. Our commitment is to invest all of our resources into making Pittsburgh a championship-caliber team once again.
Coonelly: Thank you all once again for joining me today -- I appreciate the questions. I look forward to talking with you all again in my next chat.