Pirates relieve Littlefield of duties

Pirates relieve Littlefield of duties

PITTSBURGH -- In a decision that Pirates principal owner Bob Nutting said was driven by dissatisfaction with the progress and performance of the team, Nutting dismissed general manager Dave Littlefield on Friday, effective immediately.

After accompanying the team on its most recent road trip, Littlefield was informed of the decision on Friday morning. He will be replaced by Brian Graham, Pirates senior director of player development, on an interim basis.

At a press conference at PNC Park on Friday afternoon, Nutting was asked what tipped the scales in making the decision.

"I think in respect to Dave, I don't want to go into specific issues," he said. "The bottom line that we all recognize is on-field performance -- wins and losses. We all had higher expectations for the season than we've seemed to develop. I think we've seen a number of bright spots and reason for hope, but we just didn't see the progress. I haven't been satisfied with the progress that we've seen to date."

Though Littlefield's contract runs through the 2008 season, the security of his job had been in question with the direction of the organization in limbo as it awaits the hiring of a new CEO, a decision that Nutting has said he hopes to make by the end of the month.

"I think the issue, in terms of the announcement today and timing, which was critically important, was we need to be out ahead of other clubs who may be looking for a general manager candidate in this same period," Nutting explained. "We want to make sure we have access to the very best candidates. The other piece, in terms of timing, is we want to make sure that the new candidate, the new GM, does have time to have an impact on the 2008 season."

Currently, the Astros are also looking for a new GM after dismissing Tim Purpura on Aug. 27.

Nutting was asked in July if Kevin McClatchy's announcement to rescind his position at the end of the season put the jobs of Littlefield and manager Jim Tracy in jeopardy. At the time, Nutting said that a decision regarding Littlefield's job would be made after the season and following the hiring of a new CEO.

Nutting made a move with Littlefield, but would not elaborate on Tracy's future.

"I really don't want to speculate on Jim," Nutting said. "I've got a tremendous amount of respect for his ability. He's a solid baseball professional, he's a big league manager and he's only been here for two years. I don't think it's appropriate to speculate on his future.

Nutting did shed a little light on the thinking process.

"I think the decision is going to have to be one that the general manager is fundamentally comfortable with," Nutting offered. "I don't want to handcuff him frankly either way -- that a change has to be made or a change cannot be made -- but I do like and respect Jim [Tracy], and I do think it's not productive for the feeding frenzy to begin speculating on his future."

Littlefield's tenure with the Pirates began on July 13, 2001, when he was hired as the 11th GM in team history. In his six-plus years at the helm, he was never able to put together a team that finished a season better than 75-87, a mark they reached in 2003. The team posted a 435-571 record during Littlefield's tenure, which included a 61-79 record this season.

Often forced to deal with tight payroll restrictions, Littlefield made several unpopular trades, arguably none more so than when he traded away third baseman Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs at the 2003 trading deadline. Littlefield did recently express regret at having to make that deal, though it was dictated almost entirely by financial restraints.

"I continue to firmly believe that our success is going to be determined by how well we allocate the resources we have," Nutting opined. "I believe we are going to have candidates extremely excited about coming to Pittsburgh, who feel that they can do that more effectively than we've shown so far."

Most recently, Littlefield struggled to land a veteran starter in the offseason, though he did earn praise for the deal that sent Mike Gonzalez to Atlanta in return for first baseman Adam LaRoche in January. Littlefield's most recent deal, a July 31 trade to acquire Matt Morris, was met with mixed public reaction, as some questioned the decision of the Pirates to take on Morris' $9.5 million contact for next season.

Nutting would not address questions about the club's payroll for next season.

"We haven't had a payroll discussion for next year," Nutting stated. "I wouldn't want to guess about that right now."

Graham, who has been with the team for the past six years overseeing the team's player development, also has experience as a Major League coach and Minor League manager in his 26 years of work in professional baseball.

"While the search process for our new general manager will begin immediately, it is far too early in that process to discuss possible candidates," Nutting added. "The appointment of Brian Graham as interim general manager will ensure a stable operation until a permanent replacement is found. Brian brings years of industry experience and is a tremendous asset to our organization. I'm confident he will be able to steer our baseball operations forward in the interim."

Graham had mixed emotions after hearing that Littlefield had been dismissed.

"I had concern for Dave, first of all," Graham stated. "Dave Littlefield is one of the hardest-working executives in the game of baseball, and I've been very fortunate to be in an organization over in Cleveland where we were division champions for five years. I saw the impact that the John Harts of the world make on a team, and so I understand the general manager's job. Dave was an extremely hard worker. Things didn't go as they all wish they would have. But when Bob Nutting asked me to be the interim GM, I was excited. I definitely want that opportunity and I certainly will do what I can to help the club as we move forward."

In his letter to Pirates fans, Nutting said that his decision to relieve Littlefield of his GM duties came after an eight-month evaluation process of the organization's management. Nutting also said that the search for a new GM will not impact the search for the club's future CEO.

"This decision is another important step in the transition of this organization," Nutting explained. "The search process for our new club president has clarified for me that the president and general manager positions are two distinct functions. I believe both individuals must have strong baseball backgrounds. The president will lead the overall, day-to-day operations. It is clear, however, that most successful teams also have a strong general manager in place with a single-minded focus on leading the baseball operations."

George Von Benko is a contributor to MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Jenifer Langosch contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.