Saturday, August 9, 2008

What He Really Meant to Say: Frank Coonelly

Frank Coonelly, who has been one of the most fan-friendly and media-friendly team Presidents in sports over the past few months participated in another of his monthly chats in which he fields a handful of questions from the fans and gives (mostly) surprisingly blunt responses. The full transcript can be found here, but we felt that it would be fun to translate what Connelly said into what he REALLY meant, because no one that high up in authority is going to spill all of their beans, right? Without further ado...

jm_bucsfan: Are the Pirates officially in a "rebuilding" mode now?
Coonelly: jm_bucsfan, the Pirates are continuing a "building" plan. That plan includes an aggressive international signing season this past July, an aggressive Draft in the First-Year Player Draft in June and obviously the recent trades we made to secure eight exciting young players who we believe will be an important part of our present and future.
What He Coonelly Really Meant: Uh, are you kidding me? Of course we're in a rebuilding mode. What do you call it when you trade away your best two hitters and your best reliever for a bevy of young players who need at least a few years before they reach their whole potential. But listen, the money we saved? Don't worry, I convinced Bob Nutting to stop sinking that dough into his newspaper business and it will be used to kidnap Scott Boras until after August 15th so that we can negotiate with Pedro Alvarez like civilized people.

schnoah2: It was said that the three-way trade with Boston, Pirates and Marlins that the Marlins said it was your fault, and we said it was their fault ... what really happened?
Coonelly: schnoah2, I am not sure that it is appropriate to attempt to place blame on any club. We ended up making a trade that we were very pleased with, so we don't feel a need to attempt to assess blame. That said, we were in a position in both Boston/L.A. and the Boston/Florida talks in which were dealing with Boston and Boston was attempting to secure from the other teams players that it would send to us.
So in some sense, we were not directly negotiating with clubs with whom we were going to receive players, and that made the negotiations somewhat more difficult. We had targeted two players from the Marlins who we felt we needed to secure in a trade involving Jason Bay. And we had targeted the two Dodgers players we ultimately received.
As I understand it, the Boston/Florida trade was not concluded not because of the players we were seeking but because of the money that Florida was seeking from Boston.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Florida said it was our fault? How dare they. Listen, of the original three team deal between us, The Red Sox, and The Marlins, only the Marlins dropped out because their owner is a worthless penny-pincher who wanted the Red Sox to actually pay him more then Manny Ramirez's salary for the season. How absurd is that? So anyway, we told him them to go to hell, and brought LA in instead.

sonnie11: How does the team plan to use the $20 million-plus it will save by not having Matt Morris, Bay, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte on the 2009 roster?
Coonelly: sonnie11, We intend to invest budgeted payroll dollars on putting together the best Major League roster that we can assemble. We have nine players eligible for arbitration in 2009, including five players who are eligible for the first time and who all will receive significant raises. We also will, of course, evaluate the free-agent market and determine whether there are players who can help us win in 2009 and beyond.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Well first of all, if you knew your stuff, you'd know that Matt Morris was NEVER going to be here in '09, and that Damaso Marte's option had about as much chance of being picked up as Pittsburgh does to host the 2016 Olympics. But this team has a lot of young players with enough experience that they are close to needing to be seriously paid, which means we need to decide which ones are worth it and which aren't, which means that the trading of some of ML players likely is not yet at an end. As for the free agent market, we won't be very active except to scour the bargain bin for some veteran backups. And we certainly won't be looking for short-term 1 year starters like that idiot Littlefield used to do.

bucsfan69_2: Why do we continue to develop young talent and then send it away when the players are in their prime? Is it solely based on salary?
Coonelly: bucsfan69_2, that is a question that I have been asked on several occasions over the last week. I cannot speak for past leadership, but I can tell you that it is not our intent to develop players so that we can trade them to other teams.
In fact, our plan is to develop premier players and then retain them in Pittsburgh for as long as we possibly can. We concluded that trading Nady, Marte and Bay at this time put us in the best position to build a championship caliber organization as soon as possible. Once we have a Minor League system with the type of depth that a Major League club needs, we won't be in a position where we have to acquire eight quality young players by trading three players over whom we had just 2 1/2 years of control.
In other words, once we have more talent in the system, we will not need to utilize our valuable veteran assets to acquire multiple players in return.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Well, yeah, pretty much. Why spend all this money when we can finish last with or without Bay and Nady. I mean, hey, at least we aren't crazy like the Houston Astros who made deadline deals so that they can contend... and yet they are struggling to stay above us in the standings. We might as well save the money now, get a few decent players in return and sink the dough into signing more of these draft picks.
bay569: Who is up for arbitration on 2009?
Coonelly: bay569, the players are Adam LaRoche, Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, Jose Bautista, Denny Bautista, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Tyler Yates and John Grabow.
What Coonelly Really Meant: What am I, your slave? Look it up yourself.

cybixler: Frank, when can we expect to see Tom Gorzelanny back in Pittsburgh?
Coonelly: cybixler, Tom has worked extremely hard in Indianapolis to regain the command and confidence that he showed last year and throughout most of his Minor League career. His last two outings were particularly encouraging. If Tom continues his progress, I believe that we will see him in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.
What Coonelly Really Meant: After stinking the joint out in Indy at first, Gorzo has gotten a little better in Indy, and is finally showing signs of the player we thought he could be. Albeit, those signs are in AAA. He may be back before the end of the year, but if Karstens and Maholm continue to pitch well, Snell can find his groove (as he has shown some signs of), either Dan McCutchen or Ross Ohlendorf can make an impact up here, Gorzo could find himself fighting for a starting spot with Zach Duke next spring. But hey, at least all this means the notorious JVB will never make another start for the Pirates.

bobkipper51: Will the signing of [top pick Pedro] Alvarez affect the signing of the other unsigned top-10 picks? Your recent interview makes it sound as if Alvarez doesn't sign you'll be able to sign the others, but there's been little said about whether we'll sign the others if Alvarez signs.
Coonelly: bobkipper51, That is a good question. What I said in the interview was that the Pirates would be foolish to meet the unreasonable demands of an agent for one player, because -- among other reasons -- that would make it far more difficult if not impossible to sign other talented selections who we are attempting to sign. If we're able to sign Pedro at a figure that is consistent with the market for drafted players, we will have sufficient resources in our budget to sign several other drafted players we have targeted.
Another fan asked how we were doing on the Alvarez negotiations. We remain confident he wants to become a pro player this year and is excited to start his career with the Pirates. Unfortunately, it appears that the agents for several high choices have concluded that their best deals will come at the 11th hour, in this case late in the day on Aug. 15. That is certainly frustrating for an organization that is anxious to begin the development of a player that we view as a cornerstone moving forward, and I'm sure it is also frustrating for the players whose dreams are to become Major League players and whose progression to the Major Leagues is obviously delayed by such a tactic.
What Coonelly Really Meant:
It sucks being delayed by this B.S. Tactic, which is why I'm trying to arrange for Boras' kidnapping. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Make no mistake, WE WILL SIGN PEDRO! We'll also do our best to sign these other high picks, including these two nuts from Fresno State, the injured one and the one who thinks that it matters at all to us that he pitched well in the College World Series.

gjs867: Why should we sign Maholm long term, after just half a year of good pitching?
Coonelly: gjs867, I'm glad that you asked that question. I am not sure where Dejan [Kovacevic] received information that we had made a decision to offer a multiyear contract to Paul. Paul has been our most consistent starter this year and has demonstrated the type of command and aggressiveness in attacking the strike zone that we are looking for.
I did stress to Dejan that we will be evaluating our arbitration-eligible players and making decisions regarding which players we will approach to discuss signing them to potential multiyear contracts. We have not made any decisions regarding which players we will approach as of yet.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Yeah that was Dejan's bad on that one. It's okay Dejan, I still you, you're still my boy. Doumit and McLouth could both be signed though, he was right about that, so 2/3 ain't bad I suppose.

bucabing: Frank, is there a game plan for the organization to address Jose Tabata's reported attitude issues?
Coonelly: bucabing, the game plan is the same approach that we follow with all of our players in the organization. We expect every player wearing a Pirate or Pirate-affiliated uniform to conduct himself as a professional, and that means playing the game the right way, respecting the organization and respecting the fans that support our organization. [Pirates director of player development] Kyle Stark and his coordinators and coaches do a terrific job instilling these values in all of our young players.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Yeah if he gives us any lip, we're gonna pop him one. No, no just kidding. I mean come on the kid is 19. When you were 19 weren't you getting into all kinds of shenanigans? I know I was. I mean, in case you didn't know, I did got to Penn State, needless to say, I know how to misbehave. And look at me, I turned out just fine. Tabata will grow out of it, and if not THEN we'll pop him one.

77bucco: If you have to wait till the last hour, doesn't that make it impossible to get all of your top 10 [Draft picks] signed?
Coonelly: 77bucco, your question is a good one and that is why we have been working hard to sign well in advance of the last hour all of the players we have targeted.
As you know, it takes two parties to negotiate a contract, and it's been difficult to get the agents to the negotiating table. We will continue to attempt to sign as many as we can between now and Aug. 15 and hope that not all of the negotiations will take place in the last hour.
What Coonelly Really Meant:
Weren't you listening before, we're going to sign as many of these as possible knowing that we will sign Pedro as well.

buccogrl81: With Doumit and McLouth both having a standout year, will you work hard at re-signing them? It would be a shame to lose those two.
Coonelly: buccogrl81, you are certainly right that Doumit and McLouth have been consistent producers all year long and are an important part of our present and future. As noted earlier, both players are eligible for arbitration for the first time following this season. We have said from the outset that -- in the right situations -- we will attempt to lock up our good young players to multiyear contracts that buy out one or more free-agent year. As I indicated earlier, we have not made decisions yet as to which players we intend to approach this offseason, but Ryan and Nate are certainly two strong candidates.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Look, these two are our two best young hitters, and we will do our best to sign these two to 2 or 3 year deals, but we are not about to break the bank for either as they are both still relatively unproven. McLouth's production has mostly come out of nowhere, and Doumit, while we always knew he could rake has been (mostly) healthy for the first time in his career.

cybixler: Frank, you just said the trade of Nady, Marte, and Bay was to put you in the best position to build a championship caliber organization as soon as possible. Back in June, you were quoted as saying you thought the team could compete. Why the flip-flop?
Coonelly: cybixler, I feel like a politician when I say I don't believe I've engaged in a flip-flop. We said at the outset of this year that we wanted to give this team a chance to make a run at the postseason. We did that, but unfortunately our starting pitching has been such that, even with one of the top offenses in the NL, we were not in a position to challenge the Cubs, Brewers or Cardinals for a postseason berth. As our inability to replace injured or ineffective pitchers with quality replacements demonstrated, we need more talent in order to be competitive.
Had we done nothing at the Trade Deadline, we would have continued to be short of the type of talent necessary to be a championship- caliber team. We believe that we accelerated the day when we will return to being a championship-caliber team by adding eight quality players to our system, seven of whom were playing at Double-A or above and four of whom are now playing in Pittsburgh.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Look, how was I supposed to know that our pitching staff would continue to crap the bed? I mean c'mon, we weren't going to contend this year or next with our crop, so it made sense to plan for 2010, right?

gjs867: Why wouldn't we overpay Alvarez?
Coonelly: gjs867, your question sounds like it may have been submitted on behalf of [agent] Scott Boras. We have been extremely aggressive in our efforts to sign Alvarez. We have been so aggressive that even our initial offer could meet some people's definition of "overpaying." We cannot, however, impair our ability to sign other drafted players, impair our ability to sign high Draft choices in 2009 and beyond or impair our ability to sign and retain our good young players like McLouth, Doumit and others, by simply giving every dollar that's available to this organization to one player who has never put on a professional uniform or taken a single at bat at the Major League level.
That would be irresponsible and would hamstring the organization for years to come. Pedro is an extremely talented player who has had a decorated amateur career, and we hope he will have a long and successful career with the Pirates.
What Coonelly Meant: We probably will.
shamtown: What would you say the chances of signing Alvarez are? If we can't sign high end Draft picks because of money, does it make sense to take them?
Coonelly: shamtown, all right this will have to be the last question of the day and, not surprisingly it is another question on the Alvarez negotiations.
It's impossible for me to place odds on our ability to sign Pedro. All I can say is that we very much want to sign him, and we continue to believe that he very much wants to sign with the Pirates. Returning for his senior year at Vanderbilt and coming out into the Draft as a senior with very little leverage or playing independent ball are not particularly attractive options for him, and while the third selection in the draft which we would receive as compensation if we are unable to sign Pedro is certainly a valuable asset, our strong preference is signing Alvarez this year.
We selected Pedro because he was, in our view, the best player available when we selected at No. 2. We believe that we can sign him, and we thought it was critical for us not to take a compromise or "safe" player. This is something that the organization has been accused of doing in the past. Whether this was the approach in the past or not is irrelevant. Our approach is to select the best player available when we Draft and to make every effort to sign him. We have sufficient resources to sign Pedro, consistent even with the escalated Draft values of today.
What Coonelly Really Meant: If I can get this mob contract put out on Boras? Our odds increase exponentially, probably all the way to 99.9 %. Otherwise, I'd say the chances are still very good that we will sign Pedro, probably upwards of 75%, simply because it's best for both parties to get this deal done now. However, any contract we reach with him will likely come very late at night August 15.
Coonelly: Thanks to all of you for joining us this month. We appreciate your passion for Pirates baseball.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Hey, if there are this many of you that care enough to badger me about Pirates baseball in a chat room for an hour, why in the hell aren't more of you at the games? We have promotions!

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