Coonelly: bobsbucfan, I'm not certain whether in saying you haven't seen a "big dip in the free-agent market," you mean the Pirates signing several free-agent players or if you mean by dip a reduction in player contract value resulting from the struggling economy. In any event, with respect to the suggestion that we become more involved in the market, let me assure you that we are aggressively reviewing all free-agent players and have and will pursue free-agent players who we believe fit with the Pirates and can be signed at an appropriate value.
The free-agent market has really begun to take shape this week, as we expected, and I would hope that we would be in a position to see whether some of our needs can be filled through free agency in the relatively near-term. We have been clear that we cannot expect to build the core of our team through free agency and there are certain players (CC Sabathia, Mark Texiera, etc.) who are simply not feasible for us.
We have also said that we will not spend money in the free-agent market that would prevent us from making the types of investments in scouting and player acquisition that we need to make. But that leaves a still relatively broad spectrum of players who can potentially help the Pirates' Major League roster, including providing leadership to some of our younger players, and who can be acquired at appropriate values. That's a long-winded way of saying that we are aggressively evaluating the free-agent market as a potential avenue to improve the club.
pitfan91: Hello Frank, my question is what free agents are the Pirates currently pursuing? Thank you.
Coonelly: Pitfan91, thanks for your question. We typically do not publicly reveal the players we are pursuing on the free-agent market. However, as indicated in a previous answer, it has been accurately reported that we have had interest in Rocco Baldelli and have had conversations with his agent. We have been looking to add talent to the system; in particular, we have been looking to add a right-handed bat and a veteran starting pitcher.
gillman: This offseason was particularly disappointing as a baseball fan; to see the amount of money some teams were able to give free agents made me realize that the Pirates will not be able to compete until a salary cap is in place. How close is a cap to being implemented?
Coonelly: Gillman, please don't be discouraged by the Yankees' high-priced free-agent signings. This is nothing new. The Yankees have had a payroll over $200 million the last three seasons, and it appears that its payroll will be slightly less this year than it was last year. I believe -- firmly -- that the Pirates can compete and win under the current economic system. Therefore, we are spending all of our time and energy working to build a championship-caliber team under the current system. As the Tampa Bay Rays proved last year, as the Colorado Rockies proved in 2007, and as teams like the Twins, A's and Indians have shown over extended periods, size of payroll is not determinative of success. Our challenge, and it is one that we relish, is building a championship-caliber team under this system.
bucks4life: Hello Mr. Coonelly. Is there going to be a equal chance for the four remaining rotation spots to be taken in Spring Training? Does a guy like Daniel McCutchen have the same shot as the other guys up for the rotation spots? Thanks.
Coonelly: bucks4life, that is an excellent question. It's difficult to say that each of the players who have an opportunity to compete for the starting rotation have an "equal" opportunity. Each of the pitchers will come into camp in Bradenton with a different history and a different progression as a starting pitcher. Having said that, Daniel McCutchen will certainly have a very real opportunity to prove he belongs in our starting five.
Other than Paul Maholm, all of the starters who saw significant time in the rotation last year understand that they must compete for and win a job in the rotation in 2009. Because of the acquisitions of Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen, and perhaps as the result of a free-agent signing if we are able to acquire the right player, there will be far more competition for the rotation this year.
We are excited to see the results of that competition, as well as the results of Joe Kerrigan's influence with our staff. It is obvious that we must have much better starting pitching in 2009 than we did in 2008 in order to be competitive. I am confident that we will be far more productive in our rotation in 2009.
chaz2108: Given that the [Jason] Bay/[Xavier] Nady trades have been regarded as disasters by baseball experts ranging from Phil James to Peter Gammons, why should Pirate fans have any faith in Neal Huntington?
Coonelly: chaz2108, I respectfully disagree with you that the Bay and Nady trades have been regarded as disasters by national experts. I believe that you mean Bill James rather than Phil James. Interestingly, at the time of the trades, the so-called national experts generally did not like our side of the Nady trade, but generally loved our side of the Bay trade.
Principally, because Andy LaRoche struggled during his first extended experience at the Major League level, and because Jose Tabata raked at Double-A Altoona, I have heard of some now criticize the Bay trade and praise the Nady trade. With respect to both trades, we need to give these players more than two months to demonstrate their potential as Major League players. We should not jump to conclusions based on a two-month body of work, either negatively or positively. We acquired eight quality prospects, six of whom were either Major League-ready for very close to Major League-ready, for a player over whom we had control for two months and two players over whom we had control for a year and two months.
We remain excited about the quality that we received in return in both of these trades, and I think that our fans can rightfully have confidence in the ability of Neal and his staff to evaluate talent, and can rightfully applaud Neal's fortitude in making the tough decisions that will help make us a championship-caliber club.
realist1: How do you feel about the prospects of losing fans if you stand pat with the current roster going into the 2009 season?
Coonelly: realist1, that is a great question. First, let me assure you that we are not simply "standing pat" this offseason. We have been, as I have indicated, actively evaluating potential free-agent signings and, where appropriate, pursuing free agents who can help us build a championship-caliber team. We have also been actively and aggressively evaluating potential trades that could accelerate our return to championship baseball. We recognize, of course, that our fans are frustrated and want to see us win now. We cannot, however, repeat mistakes of the past by making poor investments in overpriced (and over-the-hill) free-agent players simply in an effort to excite our fan base by providing them with unrealistic hope based on the signing of one or two marginal free agents.
I believe that Pirates fans are intelligent and understand that type of signing. Our best hope of building our fan base is to convince them that things have changed and that every decision we now make is made to put together a sustainable championship-caliber team, and that no decisions are being made in an effort to get a favorable newspaper article written about us in January.
jm_bucsfan: Do you think you can get [Nate] McLouth and/or [Paul] Maholm signed to long-term deals this winter?
Coonelly: jm_bucsfan, welcome back to our chat. Thanks for participating again. As we have said over the last 14 months, our plan to build a championship-caliber team includes attempting to retain our young quality players through as many of their free-agent years as is possible. Consistent with that plan, we signed Ian Snell and Freddy Sanchez to multi-year contracts last year that bought out at least one free agent year, and we were excited to reach an agreement with Ryan Doumit this offseason, which gives us an opportunity to exercise options that would purchase Ryan's first two free-agent years. It has been accurately reported that we made similar efforts with Nate and Paul.
Regrettably, those efforts have not borne fruit and it does not appear that we will be able to reach agreement with those players on multi-year contracts during at least this offseason. The opportunity may present itself next offseason, as we will continue to evaluate the multi-year contract alternatives with these players. In both cases, however, even if we do not reach agreements, Nate and Paul are under contract with the Pirates for the next three seasons.
dogsjacob1: When do you see top prospects such as Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen taking their first swings in PNC Park?
Coonelly: dogsjacob1, this is a question that we frequently receive, and, unfortunately, frequently provide an answer that is probably frustrating for our fans. It is great to see our fans excited about up-and-coming prospects in our system, however, and we are working hard to build a much broader base of such prospects so that we can field this question many times over during an offseason.
To the frustrating answer, we need to make sure that all of our prospects, including Andrew and Pedro, are given the opportunity to develop their skills to their fullest potential. There have been far too many cases of players who have not reached their full potential because they were rushed to the Major Leagues by organizations who were desperate to show hope and progress to their fans. Andrew and Pedro will show us by their play and by the way they conduct themselves as players when they are truly ready for the Major Leagues. Andrew's development is obviously well ahead of Pedro's. It would be somewhat surprising if Andrew McCutchen is not playing at PNC Park sometime in the 2009 season, but, again, it would be inappropriate to attempt to predict if that would be in April or September or some month in between. Given that Pedro has not played organized games since last May, he will need to begin the 2009 season in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues, and he too will demonstrate by his performance when he's ready to take the steps toward PNC Park.
Coonelly: Thank you all for participating in today's chat and thank you for your "Hot Stove" passion for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
pittguest: Thanks again, everyone, for participating. Please join us again on Wednesday, February 4, at 2 p.m. ET for Frank's next chat, and be sure to keep checking pirates.com as we hope to bring you more chats with Pirates players and coaches in the near future.