Coonelly: We have not set a budget at $54 million for 2009. We have indicated that our budget actually will increase from the 2008 budget, but we will only spend the additional money if we can secure appropriate talent for those additional dollars. As noted, we have as many as nine players eligible for arbitration and those players, on the whole, will receive significant raises. We have no intention of signing "past-prime veterans" to fill any gaps or simply to say that we spent more money than we did in 2008. We will allocate resources in a manner that we believe will improve the club and not for the purpose of mollifying members of the press who concentrate only on the size of our payroll.
atfox25: If Andrew McCutchen shows in Spring Training that he's not overmatched by the pitching and adjustment from Triple-A to the Majors, would he start 2009 with the Pirates and therefore be added to the 40-man roster a year earlier than required?
Coonelly: McCutchen will be invited to Major League Spring Training again in 2009 and will receive an opportunity to show that he belongs on the Major League club from the outset of the 2009 season. McCutchen, of course, will not be guaranteed a position on the Major League roster when we break camp, but will have the opportunity to earn such a position.
p_alvarez: Are the Pirates afraid of starting McCutchen's clock? Why not call him up? He is already better than Nyjer Morgan.
Coonelly: As indicated above, McCutchen will have an opportunity to make the club out of Spring Training and we will not leave him in Indianapolis simply so his clock for arbitration and free agency will not begin to run. I appreciate your evaluation of McCutchen in relation to Morgan, but I would point out that Morgan was very effective when he was recalled from Indianapolis and put together a productive last month and half of the season, posting a .409 on-base percentage in August and a .381 on-base percentage in September.
scatbo: I feel the Pirates are now headed in the right direction. My question is: Until some of our younger players are ready to produce, are we going to try to sign any free agents to bridge the gap?
Coonelly: I appreciate your support, scatbo, and agree that, while we had to make difficult decisions, we are clearly headed in the right direction. We are evaluating the free agents who will be on the market this offseason and will aggressively pursue players who we believe can help us win in 2009, but not take away from our ability to allocate resources to the Draft and international markets.
duane722:: Did the contentious negotiations with Pedro Alvarez leave a bad taste in your mouth or was it just part of the process and needs to be forgotten?
Coonelly: We were disappointed that Alvarez supported his agent's desire to purse a claim through the grievance procedure, but we are now pleased that he is in the system and working to become a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates roster as quickly as possible. As I indicated initially, there are some bridges that need to be mended, but I am confident that both Alvarez and the Pirates will have a long and productive relationship.
nonsmoking: I recently read that [general manager] Neal Huntington is targeting a power hitter and a veteran starting pitcher this offseason. Can you give us an idea of the caliber of players you'll be targeting?
Coonelly: The free-agent market often overvalues players, and clubs that meet the price demanded by free agents in terms of dollars and length of contract often live to regret those decisions. Having said that, however, there are players of value on the market this offseason and, as Huntington has said, we will be pursuing at least a right-handed bat and a starting pitcher who can help us win in 2009. We won't pursue these players simply to increase our payroll, but we will pursue the right player who fits with our needs and can help us win games in 2009 and possibly beyond.
piratefan11: With accountability being the mantra of the team now, what are the measurements needed to determine success for Huntington? If the eight players acquired in July this year do not show progress next year, will Huntington be held accountable?
Coonelly: Everyone in the organization is held accountable, including Huntington and myself. When I addressed the players in Spring Training, I told them that they have every right to hold the front office accountable. In terms of evaluating Huntington's performance, we look at the successful Draft that we had in June, the increase in spending in the international market on players who we think will help us build the foundation necessary to compete for championships and, as you mention, the trades that Huntington has made. As we do that, we will look at all of the trades and not simply the two high-profile trades made around July 31.
Huntington was able to add players like Tyler Yates, Phil Dumatrait and Jason Michaels through trades in which we gave up very little and he made wise free-agent signings such as Doug Mientkiewicz. Of course, the Jason Bay and Xavier Nady trades were the two largest transactions and we will continue to evaluate the return we received in those transactions.
Unlike some, I think it would be unfair to assess those trades based on two months of performance by three of the eight players that received significant time in the Majors in 2008. I remain confident that Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche and Craig Hansen can become important parts of our success in the immediate future and that Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens have a legitimate opportunity to make our starting rotation in 2009. In addition, Jose Tabata, Daniel McCutchen and Bryan Morris are among our best prospects in the system.
flinnek: In what areas did you see the Pirates improve consistently during the season? How do we sustain and build on that improvement? In which areas did the Pirates take a step backwards and how do we rectify that?
Coonelly: I believe that we consistently improved in terms of the effort that the players gave on a nightly basis. We also improved considerably in terms of the instruction that the players received throughout the season. We saw the immediate results of both of these improvements in terms of our offensive production. Where we took a step back, quite evidently, was in terms of the consistency of our starting pitching. We addressed the latter issue through the Trade Deadline trades, securing five starting pitchers in those two trades. We also, unfortunately, concluded that we needed to go in a different direction with respect to our pitching coach.
WieterLess: How fast did Tanner Scheppers hit on the radar gun during his tryout in Pittsburgh?
Coonelly: We did not put a radar gun on Scheppers shortly before he threw for us shortly before the Draft, because his representative told us he was only able to throw 70 percent of his maximum effort. In a previous question, another writer asked whether the decision not to sign Scheppers was a result of his financial demands or his health status. The answer is both.
Despite representations from his agent that Scheppers would be ready to compete in games in the College World Series, he was left off the Fresno State roster throughout the College World Series and was not able in mid-August to throw at 70 percent his maximum effort or throw any breaking balls. Despite the uncertainty with his health, his representatives insisted upon high first-round money.
nateros_2: Do you think Sean Burnett has the ability to be the setup man, instead of adding a free agent? I love the competitiveness he shows on the mound.
Coonelly: I agree that Burnett found his role in the bullpen and can be an effective back end of the bullpen pitcher for us. I expect him to make a major contribution to our club in the bullpen in 2009, whether or not we add a free agent or two to the mix.
cyredmond: In hindsight, would you do anything different with respect to the Alvarez negotiations and if so, why?
Coonelly: This will have to be the last question for this month. I thank everyone for participating and I look forward to chatting with you next month.
Coonelly: I don't believe that, in hindsight, we would have done anything different with respect to the Alvarez negotiations. I certainly wish that we had been able to begin meaningful negotiations much earlier than we did, but it takes two sides to engage in a negotiation. At the end of the day, we took the best available player when we selected, despite the history of his agent's negotiating tactics, and we signed him at a value that we believed was appropriate going into the negotiations. Therefore, while the negotiation was certainly protracted and difficult in many ways, we secured the player who we wanted and were able to sign him at the value we had placed on him.
Moderator: Thank you, everyone, for participating in today's chat. We will see you next month on Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m ET.