Interview from Piratefest – Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly

Huntington's picture from 2011 -- we didn't get a fresh one this year

As mentioned in a previous post, Pirates Prospects and some other blogs were invited backstage to interview Pirate players and front office guys.  Here’s the summary of the interviews with Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly.  Check out the videos done by Tom Smith of Rumbunter, as well.

Frank Coonelly

  •  Charlie from Bucs Dugout asked about the draft pool amount for 2012 — Coonelly states that for the Pirates, at their position of drafting 8th overall, he anticipates a draft pool of “around $10 million”.  Coonelly also said that amount includes two compensation picks they expect to get, which is a nice indicator that the Pirates don’t expect Lee back.
  • On the draft pool changes — The Pirates had been anticipating the draft pool cap for sometime, so they planned accordingly and spent liberally knowing change was coming.
  • We asked what changes were they lobbying for in the CBA negotiations that didn’t happen — Coonelly said they wanted adjustments for market-based variances, rather than just order of finish.  For instance, just in case the LA Dodgers would tank, the Pirates wanted to ensure that they would be rated based more on their market size being bigger than smaller markets such as Pittsburgh.
  • We asked what he did like in the CBA — Coonelly said that he liked that revenue sharing disqualifiers will not go back to the large market “payors”, but rather be re-invested back to the smaller markets.  For instance, certain teams will get revenue sharing discounted as they improve over a certain period.  That lessor amount of rev sharing will be reinvested in the general pool.
  • On the changes to the International Market in the CBA — The international signing pool is capped at $2.9 million for all teams.   The changes don’t go into effect until July 2, 2012, so Coonelly immediately asked Rene Gayo if there were some players they could sign under the old rules (no cap) while they still could.  However, it doesn’t appear as if there are a lot of potential high bonus guys still out there.  Interestingly, Coonelly also mentioned that he felt there were some teams that didn’t do a lot of scouting, but rather just threw a bunch of money at players because they could.
  • We asked him about the large TV contracts recently signed by the Angels and Rangers — Coonelly stated that revenue sharing orginally started to compensate for the disparity of TV contracts at that time.  He cited that the Yankees signed a contract at the time for $40 million a year, which is now chicken feed compared to the $150 million per year the Angels recently signed.  However, the Angels don’t get the full whack of that $150 million as some of it goes back to the revenue sharing pool occupied in part by the Pirates.
  • We asked him if there was additional corporate sponsorship interest as a result of the positive vibes from the 2011 season — Coonelly stated that there was additional interest in the team, but historically the Pirates have done well with sponsorships because they draw more people (1.9 million last year) than any other potential recreation event.  The Pirates are also considered a very family-friendly entity, which helps people want to associate themselves with the Pirates.
  • On the Pirates pulling out of the Venezuelan Summer League — The Pirates built the new Dominican facility with the expectation to hold 2 teams at some point, because they anticipated the political instability of Venezuela.
  • We asked about the potential of raising the minor league salaries — The Pirates are strong proponents of petitioning MLB to raise the minor league salaries and per diems for the players so that they can eat better food and have more normal budgets.
  • And finally we asked the elephant in the room question about payroll — Coonelly stated that Opening Day payroll will be “higher than at the end of the season, with flexible room in the budget to add a piece if needed”.  So that would put the payroll somewhere around $55 million POTENTIALLY.  The Pirates aren’t just going to spend money to meet some artificial number by Opening Day.

Neal Huntington

  • On first base options — Huntington said that right now it will be Jones and McGehee in a platoon at 1B, with players like Hague/Fox/Evans in the mix, as well.  They are comfortable with breaking camp, if necessary, with those players.
  • We asked him about what Larry Broadway did to warrant the perceived large jump from area scout to farm director (replacing the promoted Kyle Stark) — Revealingly, Huntington said that they signed Broadway as a minor league free agent player “with the intent on grooming him into a front office type of guy”.  He will rely heavily on Stark for the first year, but will transition fully over the course of the year.
  • We asked him what he, specifically, had learned and changed over the course of his tenure — Huntington was quite honest in his answers here.  First he said “I made a mistake bringing James McDonald back so quickly from his oblique injury at the start of 2011.”  Second, he said that he now values intangibles in a player more than he did coming from a strict talent evalutator standpoint.  He also admitted that he overvalued the importance of a role player’s presence in the clubhouse, specifically saying that Matt Diaz set the tone for the team in Spring Training and April, but couldn’t keep it up throughout the season because he wasn’t a starter.
  • On upside moves — Huntington mentioned that he has also changed his mindset about just going with safe players, realizing that they should gamble a little bit.  Example one — Erik Bedard.  Great upside if he can stay healthy.
  • On the recently acquired Yamaico Navarro — The Pirates have made it known that they are open to trading prospects, not just collecting them anymore.  Navarro’s presence may be downplayed now that McGehee was acquired shortly after him.  It sounds like between McGehee and the Rule 5 pickup Nunez that Navarro may be in AAA.
  • On the Rule 5 draft — Huntington flat-out stated that he’s not a fan of the Rule 5 draft, even though they’ve taken a player each year he’s been here.  If the new CBA proposed eliminating it, he would have been the first person to stand up and applaud the decision.  He feels it stunts development and also hurts the player’s mentality that teams are giving up on him.
  • We asked about Darvish and Chen — Huntington stated that we were the first people to ask if they even bid on Darvish (they didn’t).  He also stated that Chen is a free agent pitcher they are considering.

Thanks again to Brian Warecki from the Pirates and Tom Smith from Rumbunter for organizing this event again.


Author: Kevin Creagh

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