Coonelly chats about Bucs' offseason plans

Coonelly chats about Bucs' offseason plans

Pirates president Frank Coonelly participated in his monthly live web chat with Pirates fans on Wednesday. During the chat, Coonelly answered questions about the search for a new manager, the projected payroll for 2011, potential offseason free-agent signings to supplement the club's core of talented young players and more. The complete chat transcript follows:

Coonelly: Welcome everyone, and thank you for joining me to chat today. Let's get started.

RXD11: Why is it taking so long to hire a new manager?

Coonelly: First, we wanted to make sure we went through a very detailed and comprehensive search process that identified quality individuals who would be the right fit for the Pirates.

Second, most clubs who are in the playoffs understandably will not grant permission to talk to one of their coaches until their postseason run is complete, and we had an interest in talking with Clint Hurdle, the Rangers hitting coach. Now that the series is over, we are set to talk to Mr. Hurdle tomorrow and should be in a position to make a final decision shortly thereafter.

rupertpsu: Since taking the job in 2007, what aspect of the organization are you most proud of and what is something the organization needs to improve?

Coonelly: rupertpsu, I am very excited and encouraged by the growth of the talent in our system overall and in particular in the level of talent that we have been able to add to the system over the last three years, and the growth we have taken in terms of our ability to develop young players so that they can reach their maximum potential.

While this is an area in which we have experienced tremendous growth, we need to continue to improve our ability to scout and evaluate talent, both at the amateur level and at the professional level, so that we can identify players who will help the Pirates win championships in Pittsburgh.

stargellstars: Frank, I support this rebuilding process and am excited for the team in 2012 and beyond. That said, without giving a canned answer, are you going to add enough payroll to support a better team in 2011? Can we hope for at least a $50M payroll?

Coonelly: stargellstars, I appreciate your support of our plan to return the Pirates to a championship caliber club and your recognition that such a plan necessarily takes time.

Notwithstanding what was a very disappointing season in 2010, we have made meaningful progress in upgrading the talent in our organization and over the last two years have added several of the most exciting young players in the National League, including Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez.

Speaking candidly, I have said that we have the capacity to add meaningfully to our 2011 payroll if we are able to secure players who will help us win in Pittsburgh. We have the capacity to have a payroll over $50 million and we'll add those payroll dollars if we are able to bring in players that can help us win.

jimdgobucs: What do you plan on doing to help the pitching situation for next year, as it was clearly our biggest weakness?

Coonelly: There is no question that we need to improve our pitching in 2011, particularly our starting rotation. We have identified the starting rotation as a priority this offseason and we'll aggressively pursue adding at least one starting pitcher during the offseason, either through a free-agent signing or a trade. Of course, the free-agent market for starting pitchers is rather thin this offseason and thus there is no guarantee that we will be able to add a free-agent starter who will be able to impact our roster.

Part of the solution, therefore, must be getting better performances from pitchers like Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, and, possibly, Charlie Morton and/or Brad Lincoln. James McDonald pitched well for us following his acquisition. Ohlendorf was pitching very well prior to being shut down with shoulder soreness and Charlie Morton, who is currently pitching in winter ball, looked like he was beginning to figure some things out as the season closed.

These pitchers and any offseason acquisitions should be pushed hard by the young arms (Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke) who helped the Altoona Curve win the Eastern League championship this year. In summary, we must pitch far better in 2011 and I am confident that we will.

imd: I think pitching and defense are needed for improvement. Can you comment on which, if either, will be addressed by free agency?

Coonell:y I just addressed the need to pitch better, you have identified our other principle offseason priority -- improving our defense. As we have put together our offseason plan, we have stressed the need to play better defense, particularly in the infield. This priority may be addressed through free agency, through a trade or through internal options.

dplavi: What is one of the strong aspects you are looking for in a new manager?

Coonelly: dplavi, we are looking for a relentless and passionate teacher who will relentlessly pursue excellence throughout our organization. The manager who we hire must instill confidence and determination so that our players relentlessly pursue excellence in every aspect of their preparation and execution.

joger: Frank, several months ago some information was reported in the media showing the profitability levels of several MLB clubs, including the Pirates. What incentive does a small-market team have to improve its field performance and gate?

Coonelly: Particularly for a club like ours, which has played to only slightly more than 50% of capacity, there is a tremendous economic incentive to improve our performance on the field. Improved performance on the field will result in improved gate receipts and other stadium- related revenues. Improved revenue generation will, in turn, allow us to retain core players and sustain success on the field, bringing in even more fans and more revenue.

Even more important than the very strong economic incentives, our intense drive to pursue excellence is motivated by the loyal and passionate support that our core fanbase has given us during a very difficult period for the organization. Our fans, more than any others in professional sports, deserve a winner again and we are determined to provide them with a club of which they can again be intensely proud.

The Texas Rangers had never known the joy of playing in a World Series before this year and the Giants hadn't won a World Series since 1954. Pirates fans deserve to experience the joy that the fans in Texas and San Francisco experienced over the last month.

kristyr_2: How confident is the organization with Hanrahan or Meek as the closer in 2011? Or will you shop for a veteran closer again (like 2010 with Dotel) until you feel one is ready?

Coonelly Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek both have shown that they have the tools necessary to be quality closers. As a result, we would be comfortable relying on Joel and/or Evan closing games for us in 2011. Having said that, we are looking to add to our bullpen and if we were able to add an experienced closer, we would certainly consider making such an addition to the back of our bullpen.

halagan: You have said in the past that the goal of this team is to grow in talent through its Minor League clubs. Who do you think has a real shot at moving up to the big club this spring or by mid-season?

Coonelly: I think every baseball fan who followed the World Series this year can understand the value of building a team through its player development system. While the Giants position player roster was put together through a variety of means, the starting rotation that carried the club to a World Series championship was entirely home-grown.

I mentioned earlier our view that one or more members of the Altoona Curve starting rotation could force his way into our starting rotation at some point in 2011. Alex Presley, our Minor League player of the year, has put himself in the position to compete for a role with the club next year. And there are several exciting young bullpen arms who have a chance to have an impact next year as well.

Position player prospects like Tony Sanchez, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Chase d'Arnaud, Jordy Mercer, Andrew Lambo and others may be a year away but all will be working to demonstrate that they deserve a shot on the Major League roster at some point in 2011. For an organization that brought three position player rookies to the Major Leagues last year in Tabata, Walker and Alvarez, we are equally excited by the players who are coming behind them.

Coonelly: Last question for today ...

jbs17387: With 2011 being the 40th anniversary of the Pirates 1971 title, do the Pirates plan on having events to commemorate the 1971 champions?

Coonelly: Yes, we will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1971 World Series champion Pirates when the Orioles come into town on June 20-22. It is a great opportunity to allow our fans to celebrate that team that defeated the Orioles in seven games 40 years ago and to have our current players interact with great Pirate champions of the past.

Thanks again for joining me today and for the great questions. I look forward to chatting with you all next time.