09/03/08 5:00 PM ET
Coonelly chats with Pirates fans
Club president discusses team's decisions online
By / Pittsburgh Pirates
Coonelly: This is a question I have been asked on several occasions. The answer, quite simply, is no. I believe we are much closer to achieving our goal of building a consistent championship-caliber team today than we were on July 30. As you saw this year, even with Bay and Nady having outstanding offensive seasons, we were not good enough to be competitive in the National League Central. We need to have a strong core of quality players, both position players and pitchers. By adding eight players in the two trades, we have put ourselves much closer to being in a position to have the type of foundation that is necessary for a championship-caliber team.
p_alvarez: Any chance this team passes on a deserving Draft pick because Scott Boras is his advisor in the future?
jm_bucsfan: How important is it to finish the season strong in September?
Coonelly: It is very important to me and to the organization that we finish strong in September. With the 10 players who we added to the Pirates roster, we now have a group of players who will be competing for jobs next spring. We are very interested in seeing how these players perform at the Major League level and how they approach the game at this level. While September baseball can be misleading in terms of performance, we are anxious to see how some of these young players perform. It is also critical for the organization that the players continue to give 100 percent of an effort in the games that we play in September. We can never put a product on the field that is providing a less-than-full effort. As Neal Huntington has said recently, there will be significant competition for jobs next year and that competition began last night.
hal15014: If the Major League Players Association wins the hearing next week, are you required to renegotiate Pedro Alverez's contract? Does it remain the same or is he returned to next years Draft?
Coonelly: Yours is one of several questions regarding the possible outcomes of the MLBPA's grievance against the Commissioner's Office. I do believe that Alvarez will be a Pirate and in the very near future. We believe that the arbitrator will conclude the Commissioner's Office acted appropriately. Even if the arbitrator concludes that the Commissioner's Office exceeded its authority, however, we do not believe that the arbitrator could void our contract with Alvarez. Under no circumstance, could Alvarez be granted free agency.
jaybo1047: Regarding Alvarez, how can the arbitrator award relief to the MLBPA when neither Alvarez nor the Royals' Eric Hosmer are union members?
Coonelly: Following up on my previous answer, we do not believe that the arbitrator has authority to void a contract between a club and a player signed to a Minor League contract. Both Alvarez and Hosmer signed Minor League contracts. The collective bargaining agreement with the MLBPA covers only players signed to Major League contracts.
WieterLess: Was Andy LaRoche's jogging incident addressed? Is that acceptable behavior from a guy who just came over?
Coonelly: Yes, LaRoche's inability to run out the ball the other day was addressed immediately. That behavior is completely unacceptable and he was embarrassed by it. We are convinced that it will not happen again.
wewill44: What is the possibility of converting Neil Walker back to a catcher with the team already having LaRoche and Alvarez at third base?
Coonelly: We are not contemplating converting Walker back to catcher. Walker has done a tremendous job becoming an outstanding third baseman. The original move from catcher to third base was done to increase the likelihood of getting his productive bat in the lineup on a regular basis and allowing him to preserve himself physically. Having LaRoche and Alvarez as third basemen in the system is not a concern. We need to have multiple options at every position. Walker came on strong in the second half of the season in Indianapolis and is making significant progress in his development.
tkovalcik: How do you foresee the makeup of the team next year? Will it be a mostly a development year for young players?
Coonelly: We are still working on the makeup of the team for the 2009 season, but I can assure you that the season will not be considered as simply one of a development year for younger players. We are working very hard to make the 2009 team a team that can compete for a championship. Given our roster and the recent trades that we have made, our team will include many younger players and we will continue working on the development of those players as well as all of the players in the system, but we will be playing to win in Pittsburgh every night.
p_alvarez: Frank Coonelly 1, Scott Boras 0? Is there something behind the scenes that has escalated this issue, personal feelings between you two?
Coonelly: As I said from the beginning, the selection of Alvarez was one that was based entirely on our belief that he was the most talented player available when we selected and that the intrigue regarding a negotiation that included Boras and I was simply not relevant to the Pirates or, I'm sure, Alvarez. I can only speak from our side, but personal relationships between myself and Boras has played no role whatsoever in our selection of Alvarez, or our negotiations with the player.
vladedivac: With the end of your first year in the Pirates front office, how would you rate the Pirates system now than when you took your position?
Coonelly: We are work in progress. We believe that we took significant steps to upgrade the player development system this year and that progress has been made, both in terms of adding significant talent to the system via trades, the First-Year Player Draft and international signings. We have also changed the way we developed players in the Minor Leagues and changed much of the personnel in the player development system. I am extremely enthusiastic about the steps we have taken to put together a first-class player development team. Kyle Stark and his staff have worked extraordinarily hard this year to implement a system that is much different than the one that was in place prior to our arrival. We certainly faced some challenges in terms of wins and losses when putting together age-appropriate teams at every level. We still need to add quality players throughout the system to get to the point where we have a core that will allow us to consistently feed premium talent to the Major League club.
kyrene4: If 2009 will not be a development year for younger players, what will it be?
Coonelly: Every year better be a year of development for younger players and therefore 2009 better be a year in which we develop our younger players to their full potential. What I said, however, is that that is not our only goal for the 2009 season. Our goal is to put together a team that has a chance to win at the Major League level every night. I am not prepared to write off the 2009 season as one in which we are simply attempting to develop players to help us win in 2010 or beyond.
cyredmond: The organization seems to be lacking top-end starting pitching talent. With the exception of Brad Lincoln and Bryan Morris, I don't see any potential front- end starters of which to speak. How do you plan on addressing this situation?
Coonelly: That is an excellent question. The inability of our starting pitching to provide quality starts cost us games throughout this 2008 season. We addressed this issue in both the Nady and Bay trades by securing five starters among the eight players received in those trades. We are very excited about all of these players and Pirates fans will have an opportunity to see Ross Ohlendorf pitch tonight. We will continue to address the need to add quality arms to the system as we assess potential trades and the free-agent market. As you know, however, starting pitching is extremely costly on the free-agent market and clubs that have spent large dollars on mid-tier starters have almost universally been very disappointed in the return. We will certainly assess the free-agent market this offseason, but we will not divert the $10 million-plus per year for three or four years that is necessary to secure even a mid-tier starter from the areas where that financial commitment can be invested with far better results.
bigrand03: With so many quality outfielders in the system what does the organization have planned for Jose Tabata?
Coonelly: We can never have too many quality players at any position. Tabata is an extremely exciting young prospect who finished very strong in Altoona. I was in Altoona on Sunday for the Curve's final game and all of the staff there raved about Tabata, both in terms of his play and his winning attitude. We believe that Tabata has the ability to be a fine starting outfielder at the Major League level.
jirisleger: How much of the decline of Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny do you place on Ryan Doumit and his inability to call a good game? Wouldn't Ronny Paulino and his outstanding CERA be a better choice?
Coonelly: We would not blame Doumit for the struggles that Gorzelanny and Snell have had this year. I am not sure where you are getting your CERA information, but Paulino did not have an outstanding CERA prior to his optional assignment to Indianapolis. Starting pitchers need to take responsibility for their own performance and not attempt to blame the catcher for their inability to make quality pitches. Having said that, I have not heard either Gorzelanny or Snell attempt to blame Doumit for their struggles this year.
wewill44: Evaluate the potential of Brandon Moss. He has gone above and beyond expectations since joining the club. Is this with help from Coach Don Long?
Coonelly: I would not agree that Moss has exceeded expectations since joining the club. We were insistent upon including Moss in the Bay deal because we believed we was a quality outfielder who possessed a quality bat. Moss is a line-drive hitter who has the power to hit home runs. He has an outstanding approach at the plate and the potential to be a quality bat in our lineup for many years to come.
nateros: What was the reason for shopping Snell at the deadline? Is the organization ready to move on already?
Coonelly: We were certainly not shopping Snell at the Trade Deadline and are certainly not prepared to "move on." Snell continues to have above-average stuff and should be a quality starter in this league for years. We have worked with Snell on his approach and believe that he has made significant progress in that area over the last month.
dsnelqendo: How can a team compete for championships in 2009 when it is struggling to get win No. 60 through 140 games in 2008?
Coonelly: First, we have almost a month left of the season and thus will finish with far more than 60 wins. More importantly, you need to look back no further than last year when the Tampa Bay Rays finished the season with 66 wins, the worst record in Major League Baseball, and now lead the vaunted American League East with an 84-52 record. Tampa Bay has built a championship-caliber team by building a strong core of young players from its Minor League system. We are doing the same, and I am confident we will again win championships as long as we stay true to our plan.
xcutters: It seems as if the Pirates traded for quantity over quality this year as there are only two high-ceiling players out of the eight we received. With Alvarez not playing for the Buccos, who exactly are we watching develop into a true star now?
Coonelly: This will be the last question of today's chat session. I disagree strongly that we traded for quantity over quality and that we received only two high-ceiling players out of the eight that we received. I am not sure who you put into the high-ceiling category, but we are very excited about all eight players. Ohlendorf will make his Pirates debut this evening and we are extremely excited about what he can do in our rotation. Jeff Karstens has shown that he can be a quality starter in this league and we are excited about him competing for a spot in the starting rotation next year. We have already talked about the potential that Moss is showing at Pittsburgh and the strong finish that Tabata had in Altoona. We are equally excited about the futures of Morris and Daniel McCutchen, two other starters that we secured in these two trades. Thus, while we did fill numerous needs, we believe we did so with quality players.
Coonelly: Thank you for submitting such excellent questions and I look forward to chatting with you again next month.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.