Pirates president Frank Coonelly participated in a live online chat with Pirates fans on Thursday, just days before baseball's annual Winter Meetings begin in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. During the chat, Coonelly answered many questions about potential offseason acquisitions, the makeup of the 2011 Pirates and more. The complete chat transcript follows.
Coonelly: Hello again, everyone and thanks for joining me today. My apologies for having to move the chat back one day -- I had to be out of town -- but I am glad we are able to talk today. Let's get started.
realist1: Have you made a decision on the tender/non-tender guys?
Coonelly: We will definitely tender [Ross] Ohlendorf and [Joel] Hanrahan. We continue to have discussions with the reps for [Ronny] Cedeno, [Lastings] Milledge and [Jeff] Karstens.
jolemite: Great job in the 2010 Draft. [Jameson] Taillon and [Stetson] Allie look like they could be an awesome 1-2 punch a few years down the road. Both guys clearly needed to be signed over slot value. Does the impending hard slot situation concern you?
Coonelly: Thank you for the kind words. We are even more excited today about bringing those young men into our system than we were on the day we drafted them. We look forward to the impact that those two power arms will have on our rotation in Pittsburgh. As you indicate, we have consistently been willing to sign players for well over slot compensation when we have seen their value as over slot. This has allowed us to add a tremendous amount of talent to the system over the last few years. The rules of the collective bargaining agreement will remain the same this June, and we will continue to look for opportunities to acquire outstanding players throughout the Draft. Over the long term, however, it is critical to our success that we remain able to select players in the Draft based on their talent and not their signability. As a result, a hard slotting system would ensure that the Pirates can continue to select players based on talent and not signability.
dplavi: As the Winter Meetings draw closer, are there any certain "game plans" you have going into them?
Coonelly: [General manager] Neal [Huntington] and his staff have been working hard all offseason on our game plan to improve the club for next season without trading away the outstanding talent in our Minor League system that has us and our fans excited about our future. As Neal has said, we are aggressively pursuing opportunities to upgrade our starting rotation. We are also exploring potential upgrades and/or platoon candidates for right field, first base and/or shortstop. As always, the Winter Meetings will bring additional inquiries from other clubs who are trying to acquire players to meet their needs. We are looking forward to having productive dialogue with both agents for free-agent players which we have targeted, as well as GMs of the other 29 clubs.
BigNastyD: Good afternoon, Mr. Coonelly. How are Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel progressing in the Minor League system since being signed in 2008?
Coonelly: Both Rinku and Dinesh made tremendous progress in both terms of their baseball development and their overall development as young men since the day that we signed them. For two young men who had never seen a baseball let alone played the game, their feats on the baseball field were and are remarkable. Dinesh was recently released, as it became clear that it was not likely that he would develop into a Major League player. He was very grateful for the opportunity and thankful for the intense training he received from our staff. Rinku is developing very nicely and is currently pitching for the Melbourne team in the Australian Winter Baseball League.
stargellstars: Frank, there are a lot of skeptics (media and blogs) that have said that an offer was never made to [Jorge] De La Rosa, or it wasn't an offer worthy of proving the promise to spend on true talent. Can you clear up what happened and why he couldn't be landed?
Coonelly: stargellstars, I can assure you that we did in fact make an offer to De La Rosa. It was an offer, in our judgment, that was reflective of Jorge's market value, taking into account both his potential upside, but also the reality that he has started more than 25 games only once in his six-year career. We made the offer and engaged in the negotiations in an effort to sign De La Rosa and not in an effort to prove our skeptics wrong. Mr. De La Rosa accepted Colorado's offer, which included, among other things, a player option for the third year worth $11 million. A pure player option such as that is a "heads the player wins, tales the club loses" situation that we would not entertain.
wirels3: How many potential new pitchers are the Pirates looking for in the offseason to bring on board?
Coonelly: wirels3, we are looking to improve both our starting rotation and our bullpen. We have not set a number of pitchers that we desire to bring in on either front, but we have been clear with numerous free agents that we have opportunity that can be seized. We've had ongoing discussions with multiple free-agent starters, and would be pleased to sign more than one starting pitcher to compete for a spot in the rotation. We are also, of course, looking for players currently on the roster to win jobs in the rotation. Starters like Charlie Morton, Brad Lincoln and Brian Burres have an opportunity to demonstrate that they can be effective members of our rotation. We are mindful, of course, as we pursue free agents and trade candidates that we have several exciting arms, like Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke and others, who were part of the Double-A championship in Altoona and looking to secure their own role in our rotation in the very near future.
razrbk: Considering the kind of pitchers we have now, shouldn't a consistent defensive shortstop be a top priority?
Coonelly: razrbk, as you correctly suggest, several pitchers in our rotation are pitch to contact. It is thus particularly important to have a strong infield defense, and the up-the-middle positions of shortstop and second base are critical to having a strong infield defense. We have identified upgrading our infield defense as a top priority and are working aggressively to accomplish that upgrade.
kison25: Will you guys be leaning to platooning in 2011 and beyond? [Garrett] Jones seems like a perfect fit for that. A lefty and righty platoon can put up big numbers and keep the costs more under control for you.
Coonelly: Having more than one player platooning at one or more positions is not optimal, but something that we are certainly exploring as we assess our alternatives in the market. You are right that Garrett Jones hit well against right-handed pitching in 2010 and struggled against lefties. Garrett, who is in town this week helping us with community and promotional events, is determined to prove that he is a full-time, regular player who can do more than simply survive against left-handed pitching. In short, while platooning is not optimal, it is something that we are exploring at more than one position. Whether we open the 2011 season with a platoon situation at any position will depend on the acquisitions we are able to make and the progress that players like Garrett are able to demonstrate in Spring Training.
uncle_bill: How do you evaluate players who are recovering from a significant injury? Can you require them to pass a physical and/or make the offer contingent on meeting certain physical standards once they report?
Coonelly: Great question. The short answer is that we use all available tools and resources to properly assess the player's current health likelihood of remaining healthy over the term of a proposed contract. That exhaustive analysis includes: reviewing the player's complete medical file and giving the player a complete medical examination prior to signing him to a contract. Even with this type of diligence, signing a player, particularly a pitcher, with a history of injuries is a substantial risk that must be factored into our analysis.
Coonelly: Let's take one more ...
jolemite: I also want to commend you on your deal with the Dodgers last season. I think both James McDonald and Andrew Lambo are great additions. What do you guys hope to get from McDonald?
Coonelly: jolemite, like you, we are very pleased with what we saw from both Andrew Lambo and James McDonald since we acquired them at the Trade Deadline. Andrew gave the Altoona Curve team a shot in the arm as it completed its campaign and march through the playoffs to secure the Eastern League championship. He has just wrapped up a solid Arizona Fall League season in which he tied for the league lead in RBIs with 23.
James McDonald, in a very short stint with us, showed the type of stuff that Neal and his staff thought could produce effective starts. The key for James in 2011 is to demonstrate that he has the strength, durability and consistency to start 32 to 34 games at a very high level. As a result, James has been working this offseason to get stronger and to demonstrate that he can be a middle- to top-of-the-rotation big league starter. Given the work ethic that we have seen from James thus far, we are confident that he can achieve the high end of that aspiration.
Coonelly: Thanks again, everyone, for joining me. I will talk with you all again to kick off the new 2011 year in January.