On Wednesday, Pirates team president Frank Coonelly talked with and answered questions for fans online. What follows is a transcript of the chat.
stargellstars: Frank, I understand that "tough decisions" will need to be made on trading some of our talent for pitching prospects that are close to MLB-ready. Without specifics, what has been the level of interest in some of our talent?
Frank Coonelly: stargellstars, thanks for your question. A club always has to consider "tough decisions" with respect to its Major League roster. And as we have said, we need to infuse our organization with more premiere talent, both pitchers and position players. While the starting pitching has been inconsistent at best during the first month of the season, we are encouraged by recent outings, and believe that we will be getting far more consistent quality starting pitching. We also are not giving up on this team. It is still early and we believe that we are good enough to be competitive this year. Having said that, we have received inquiries from several clubs regarding position players on our roster who are having very productive seasons.
no_smoking: Hello Mr. Coonelly -- I recently read a comment that you made about the team "paying down debt." As a fan this is very frustrating. Is there going to be a time where the fans are told that more money is being put into the payroll?
Coonelly: no_smoking, thank you for your question. I have been asked about the comment I made to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on a number of occasions. The fact that the Pirates have over the last several years paid down a small portion of its debt should not be frustrating to you or our fans in general. Indeed, the collective bargaining agreement in baseball required the Pirates, beginning in 2002, to either pay down its debt or increase its EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) so that the club can service its debt. By paying down some debt, a club can reduce its annual interest obligation, and this leaves additional resources available to spend in other areas such as the Major League payroll, the amateur draft and player development. So, paying down debt is not inconsistent with spending money in areas that will improve the team's performance on the field. It is, in fact, necessary to allow the club to use its resources on player-related investments rather than on interest payments made to banks. Having said that, the Pirates will actually increase its debt in 2008 as we build a first-rate baseball academy in the Dominican Republic and undertake additional projects such as the new baseball and dormitory complex in our Spring Training facility in Bradenton.
cappslock: Mr. Coonelly, What does the organization think of Ryan Doumit's development? I have been impressed by his obvious hitting ability, and he even possesses decent speed and athleticism at a position where that is rare.
Coonelly: cappslock, the organization is extremely pleased with Ryan Doumit's development. Not only is Ryan producing as our cleanup hitter, but he is also providing us with more-than-adequate defense at the catcher position. Ryan worked extraordinarily hard during the offseason on his conditioning and his approach, and that work is paying large dividends for him and the organization.
dsnelqendo: Please tell us that the Bucs will be getting a hitter with their No. 2 overall pick next month ... please?!?!?!
Coonelly: dsnelqendo, we are not ready to announce who we will select with the No. 2 pick in the Draft on June 5. There is obviously a lot of baseball, including college playoffs, for us to evaluate over the next three weeks. I will assure you, however, that we will be taking the best available player. We cannot ignore the history of this organization in terms of the less-than-successful selections that have been made in the amateur draft, but we cannot and will not close off a significant portion of the talent pool because of that history. You certainly understand the critical importance of quality starting pitching. For instance, so far this year we rank fifth in the NL in runs scored, but have not been nearly as successful as we should be because our inconsistent starting pitching. Having said all of that, we are extremely excited about several position players who may be available when we make the second selection in the draft this June.
bucsfan57: Mr. Coonelly, Do you have any update on the status of Evan Meek? I know he was put on waivers, but there has been no word on whether Tampa Bay is taking him back. Curious to know the outcome.
Coonelly: bucsfan57, Evan cleared waivers this afternoon. Under Major League Rules 5 and 6, we now need to offer him back to Tampa. As part of that process, we may have an opportunity to retain Evan by working out a mutually-acceptable arrangement with Tampa.
37manrostr_2: Frank, do you have any immediate plans for the open spots on the 40-man roster?
Coonelly: 37manrostr_2, Neal is exploring several possible additions to our roster that he believes will improve the club. If the right situation presents itself, we will be utilizing one or more of the open spots on the 40-man roster.
no_smoking: Mr. Coonelly -- With the trade deadline approaching, can you tell more about the strategies that you and Mr. Huntington plan to employ, or do you still feel that the current team deserves more chances to play at a competitive level?
Coonelly: no_smoking, that is a great question and one that I know has received a fair amount of comment recently. While we will never refuse to hear out another club, we are not actively seeking to move talented players on our roster. We certainly have not given up on this club's chances of competing for the NL Central in 2008. We made a decision to give this group of players a chance to show that they can win, and we are not prepared to make a conclusion at this early point that they cannot.
mcmighty: Will the Bucs continue to avoid prospects who have Boras as an agent in the draft?
Coonelly: mcmighty, I cannot tell you whether the Pirates in the past avoided amateur players who were being advised by Scott Boras. I can tell you, however, that we will not shy away from any player who we like simply because he has selected Mr. Boras to represent him in the process.
marmari: Realistically, How many prospects have the Pirates focused on for their 1st pick in the June draft? Are they targeting college vs. high school, position players vs. pitchers, or the "best player available"?
Coonelly: marmari, I can understand and appreciate why we are getting so many draft-related questions. This is an extremely important area of talent acquisition and our entire baseball operations department is working extremely hard to identify, draft and sign the type of premiere talent with which we can build sustainable championship-caliber clubs. It is important that you understand that we are working extremely hard to identify such premiere players who may be available to us in all 50 rounds of the draft and not just with the second selection. The second selection is nevertheless critical to the organization, and we are in the process of seriously considering at least 10 players for that selection. That group includes both pitchers and position players, and both college and high school players.
37manrostr_2: Mr. Coonelly -- you just said that you aren't seeking to move talented players on the roster. My question is, why not??
Coonelly: manrostr_2, I was careful to say that we are not looking to move talented players off our roster at this point. We believe that this club deserves more than five weeks to prove that it can compete for a championship. We will continue to evaluate the trade prospects that may be available to us as the season progresses. It is still our hope that we will be looking to add rather than subtract talent from our Major League club, as we said we would do if we are competing for the NL Central championship.
tla3: Good afternoon Frank! Can you give us an update on Jack Wilson? We really need him back as soon as possible.
Coonelly: tla3, Jack is at our rehabilitation facility in Bradenton working very hard to get back to Pittsburgh. He had a minor setback as he escalated his work over the weekend. While we had hoped that he would be back at some point this week, that is no longer realistic. We remain hopeful, however, that Jack will not be out much longer than that.
mercerboy: Do you feel that Tom Gorzelanny's troubles this year are rooted more in a lack of confidence or his back injury?
Coonelly: mercerboy, I do not think that Tom's inconsistent performances have been the result of any physical issues. We are encouraged by Tom's last start in New York and look forward to his next start this weekend.
kilsey: Hi Frank! How surprised were you at Nate McLouth's hot start to the season? Do you think he'll be able to keep it up all year long?
Coonelly: kilsey, we were extremely excited about Nate McLouth coming out of Spring Training this year. As I am sure you know, the players voted Nate as the breakout player of the year coming out of Spring Training. Nate has worked extraordinarily hard his entire career to get to where he is today and it is difficult to say that we are surprised by his performance given his work ethic and his approach. I believe that Nate will continue to be one of the most productive hitters in the NL.
jvanslyke: Q: Mr. Coonelly -- I met you at the Wheeling downs and you are a very nice guy. You seem like you have a vision for the pPirates. What is number one on your list to help improve this ball club and bring it back and even better than it was 14 years ago?
Coonelly: jvanslyke, thanks for your kind words and thank you for coming out and seeing the Pirates during our Caravan this winter. Our number one priority for restoring the Pirates to our rightful place atop the NL is building the deepest and most talented farm system in baseball and developing the premiere players that we sign into the best baseball players that their potential allows. Once we do this, we will be able to consistently infuse the Major League club with championship-caliber talent that is necessary to win championships. We already have a number of very talented players in the Minor League system with whom our instructors and coaches are working very hard to maximize their talent so that they can contribute to the championships.
Coonelly: That will have to be all for today. I am sorry that I could not get to all of your questions. I appreciate your passion for the Pirates and thank you for your support as we build the championship clubs that you deserve.
pittguest: Thanks everyone for participating in today's chat with Frank Coonelly. Our next chat with Frank will take place on Wednesday, June 4 at 2 p.m. ET.