Coonelly discusses present, future
Pirates team president visits with fans in online chat
Pirates president Frank Coonelly visited with fans in an exclusive chat at pirates.com on Wednesday afternoon. The following is a complete transcript.
stwoods53: I think you're doing a great job. Do you see any trades for Jack Wilson?
Coonelly: Thank you very much and welcome to the chat. I do not see a scenario at this time in which we will trade him. I expect Jack to be our Opening Day shortstop this year.
chazguzzo: What are the expectations for the 2009 season?
Coonelly: Our expectations are high. We are very excited to get the 2009 season started. We believe that our starting pitching was clearly our Achilles' heel last year, and we feel that we will be much stronger in that area in 2009. We added several quality arms to the organization in the deadline trades last year, including Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen, who will have an opportunity to make our starting rotation in 2009.
In addition, we are looking for bounce-back seasons from Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny, both of whom have shown in the past that they can be quality starting pitchers at the Major League level. We are also excited to have the opportunity to have Andy LaRoche and Brandon Moss in our camp from the beginning of spring. Both are healthy now and have worked extremely hard this offseason.
I would never want to make predictions as to the number of games that we will win, but I am confident that we will play better than we did in 2008 and surprise a lot of people with our performance.
1swing3: I was wondering if you've considered going after any Type-A free agents this year (of the Juan Cruz variety). The ones that are left don't seem to be getting many offers, as teams are hesitant to give up a Draft pick.
Coonelly: That is a great question. We will typically be reluctant to look at a Type-A free agent for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Type-A free agents typically command top-of-the-market salaries. As we have said, we need to build our team from a core of premiere players signed and developed here in Pittsburgh. Secondly, because we value our high Draft choices so highly, it would be very difficult for us to lose a first- or second-round Draft choice as compensation for signing a Type-A free agent.
Having said that, there are Type-A free agents such as Adam Dunn who were not offered arbitration and thus would not cost a Draft pick who we would consider if such a player fit within our budget. Right now, Dunn would not fit within our budget. Cruz, who you asked about specifically, was offered arbitration and thus would cost us a Draft choice. As a result, he is not on our radar screen.
dsnelqendo: Dunn is 29 years old with a big lefty power bat. He may be available at a discount. Why not offer him a four-year deal?
Coonelly: As I indicated above, Dunn is an interesting free agent because he would not cost us a Draft pick. Right now, the salaries that he is expecting do not fit within our budget. If other moves were made and Dunn fit within our budget, he is someone who we would consider.
realist1: Have there been ongoing negotiations between Nate McLouth's side and the Pirates geared toward structuring a long-term contract?
Coonelly: We have not had any discussions on a long -term contract with Nate's representative since we exchanged arbitration numbers. It looks like those discussions have ended for this year and we will likely have a one-year deal with Nate. Having said that, I have seen situations in the past where multi-year discussions were resurrected prior to an arbitration hearing, and we have not closed any doors.
chaz2108: Given that there are gaping holes at third base, left and right fields, shouldn't filling those voids be more of a priority than rounding out the bench?
Coonelly: Thanks for your question, chaz2108. I respectfully disagree that we have "gaping holes" at third base, left field and right field. We are very excited, as I mentioned above, to have LaRoche and Moss in the system from the start of Spring Training. Both players are healthy and have worked extremely hard in the offseason. Both Andy and Brandon were top prospects in the Dodgers and Red Sox systems, respectively. Both of these young players have proven Minor League track records, and we believe can perform well at the Major League level.
While it is true that both struggled in their two months with us last year, it is not at all unusual for young players to struggle in their first extended Major League experience. With respect to left field, Nyjer Morgan is currently the frontrunner and we are excited by what Nyjer brings to the ballclub. After struggling in a pinch-hitter role at the beginning of last season, he performed very well at Indianapolis and then played very well for us in August and September last year. In fact, Nyjer hit .347 with a .391 on base percentage after being called back to Pittsburgh last year. He covers tremendous ground in left field and provides speed on the bases.
jm_bucsfan: Are you expanding your scouting efforts in Korea, Taiwan and other emerging talent markets?
Coonelly: Welcome back to the chat. Yes, we have expanded our scouting department to include scouts in Korea, Taiwan and other emerging markets. As you saw this past year by our signing of a highly talented player from South Africa and the two interesting young arms from India, we are very much looking at all international markets as potential avenues for acquiring young talent.
dan71: Morgan is not good enough to play every day, shouldn't Andrew McCutchen start the year in left field and gain experience? This team won't be competitive this year and it would help to get him experience.
Coonelly: dan71, as indicated by my answer to a previous question, I would disagree that Nyjer is not good enough to play every day in left. Nyjer performed extremely well in September of 2007 and then again when he came back in August of last year. Andrew McCutchen is an outstanding young talent and a young player who we believe will be a cornerstone of the organization for years to come. We will not rush Andrew to the Majors before he is ready simply to "gain experience."
Too many good young players have been hampered by being rushed to the Major Leagues too early. Very few have been hampered by receiving the appropriate amount of development at the Minor League level. Having said that, if Andrew McCutchen proves in Spring Training that he has done everything he needs to do to start in the Major Leagues, he will have a chance to make the Major League club out of camp.
dogs717: Will Eric Hinske get a chance to start?
Coonelly: dogs717, we signed Eric Hinske as a bench player who can provide us with quality starts at all four corner positions, first base, third base, left and right fields. Eric should receive considerable playing time in light of his versatility. Certainly if any of our corner players become injured or do not perform, Eric provides us protection in those areas.
brian921: I think you have done a great job locking in talent through their arbitration years with a free agency option and addressing the 2010 problem. How probable is it to think we will have a contender by 2012?
Coonelly: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address how we're building this team. While we certainly have been and will continue to acquire young talent, we are not targeting 2010 -- or 2012, for that matter -- as the year in which we think we will win. Six of the eight players we acquired in the deadline trades last year are (or shortly will be) ready for the Major Leagues. We expect to win in 2009 and would not find it acceptable to attempt to build a team that will not win until 2010 or 2012.
dogs717: The Pirates have a low payroll, so how do we get talent within Pittsburgh?
Coonelly: dogs717, we are building this team in the same manner as the Minnesota Twins have built their clubs over the last several years and as the Tampa Bay Rays built their World Series team. You are correct that we are unlikely to have a payroll that is in the top 10 in baseball, but that does not mean that we will not have premiere players. We are aggressively spending money on the Draft and in the international markets, and in the Dominican Republic in particular. We have also acquired premiere players via trade. In short, we need to sign and/or develop our own premiere players and then retain them in the system for as long as possible.
pittguest: Thank you, everyone, for your questions. Please join Frank again next month on March 4 at 2 p.m. ET.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.