At last month’s Piratefest, Pirates Prospects and some of the other leading Pirate blogs, were able to have a backstage interview with Paul Maholm, Neal Huntington, and Frank Coonelly. It was a great event, but I was left with a ton of questions still on my page and felt that some answers needed more detail.
To that end, Pirates Prospects was able to secure a follow-up interview with team President, Frank Coonelly. Mr. Coonelly was kind enough to give us some of his time while at Spring Training this week.
Kevin Creagh: For our readers that may not be familiar, can you explain your day-to-day responsibilities as President?
Frank Coonelly: Great question, and one that I am asked often. I am responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the Club. That means, among other things, that I am responsible for getting the right people in the positions of leadership and providing them with the tools necessary for them to make us successful. For us to be truly successful, we must run a high quality baseball operation, we must be a growing, forward-thinking business that is able to generate the revenues necessary to support a winning team and the many capital investments that we must make to remain a vibrant organization. We also must be strong, caring and giving members of our communities and must be able to effectively articulate the organization’s vision and messages. Again, this takes effective leaders in each of these core areas working with a common purpose.
Kevin: How often are the Pirates approached by someone or some entity in becoming a minority partner?
Frank: It happens a fair amount but our current partners are committed to seeing this team return to the glory that we once enjoyed.
Kevin: Please explain the process that occurs when Neal Huntington wants to add a player in a trade, the draft, or during the international signing period that may cause those respective budgets to be exceeded.
Frank: The first thing that is done is to set realistic budgets, including our Major League payroll budget and our amateur signing bonus budget, at levels that we believe put us in a position to succeed as an organization. We have in each of the last three years set the amateur budget at levels that are at the very top of the industry in order to empower our scouts to infuse the system with young talent. We expect to be able to make our strategic investments within these budgets but have a process in place in which we will evaluate opportunities to improve the Club by exceeding a certain budget. We did this when we signed Luis Heredia. Neal and his staff will make a case for such a decision and I will then take that case to Bob Nutting. If Bob agrees that the case has been made and that exceeding the budget for the proposed signing will not hinder our ability to make the other investments that need to be made, he will approve the acquisition.
Kevin: Conversely, explain the process and conversation that occurs when Neal wants to trade a fan favorite player, such as McLouth or Bay.
Frank: A very similar process takes place here. We trust Neal’s judgment with respect to baseball decisions but also understand that our fans want to be able to become attached to our players. As a result, Bob and I will bring the fans’ interests into the equation when making such a decision. The reality is that our fans want us to succeed on the field and thus a transaction that will make us better is one that we, as an organization, must seriously consider even when we know that it may not be popular as an initial matter.
Kevin: Dan Fox and the rest of the statistical staff have developed their own in-house, propriatary defensive rating systems. How do those results compare to the “off-the-shelf” defensive metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating and Total Zone?
Frank: The answer to that question is proprietary. That is a (poor) attempt at humor but also true. Dan presents Neal and his group with an incredibly wide array of information, including all of the “off-the-shelve” metrics that we value. Dan has also developed Pirates metrics that attempt to take the analysis a step further. All of the information is made available and analyzed, and Dan informs us of the strengths and weaknesses of the various metrics.
Kevin: Is the compensation system broken when a team like the Tampa Bay Rays gets 11 picks in the first 75 selections of the 2011 draft, while the Pirates get 1?
Frank: Yes. We need to reduce the compensatory selections so that the second selection of the Club drafting first in the country is not 58 or 60 instead of 31. Now, Tampa received those selections because it lost good players in free agency but it is difficult for the draft to serve its purpose when there are so many compensatory selections before the second round.
Kevin: Would the Pirates be able to afford a $70M to $80M payroll, in present-day worth, if this current group of players were competitive enough to merit additional outside free agents?
Frank: Today, no but we will be able to support that payroll very soon if our fans believe that we now have a group of players in Pittsburgh and on its way here in the near future that is competitive. We need to take a meaningful step forward in terms of attendance to reach that payroll number while continuing to invest heavily in our future but I am convinced that the attendance will move quickly once we convince our fans that we are on the right track.
Kevin: Without discussing any specific players, how much of a player do you need to see before you consider offering them a long term extension?
Frank: Great question and not an easy one to be right on in every case. The factors that go into the decision, at least for us, include the player’s track record on the field, his health and also his makeup and character. We need to be convinced that we can count on the player over the long term and that requires trust in the player as a person and as a teammate.
Kevin: Would you like to highlight the work being done by a front office member that the public may not be as familiar with? (Not NH, Kyle Stark, or Greg Smith)
Frank: Just like on the field, we can only succeed if we work well as a team. We have preached cohesiveness throughout the baseball operations and throughout the entire organization. As your question correctly suggests, that means that we need all of the front office working to support what we are trying to accomplish on the field. The many people in the organization who are selling Pirates baseball and building the Pirates brand in the community are critical to our ability to generate the revenues necessary to build and sustain a winning team. We have not made their jobs easy given our performance on the field to date but they are remarkably committed to the task and are putting us in a very good position to build on the successes that we have on the field. As just one example, our fans love coming to PNC Park because we provide great family-friendly entertainment in a safe environment and because they are treated as our very special partners, investors and guests.
Kevin: Would you care to share how you relax and spend your free time?
Frank: Sure, I do not relax nearly as much as I probably should but I do like to play (inexplicably bad) golf, bike, hike and generally do things outdoors. I love to read and try to enjoy a wide variety of books on as many different topics as I can. And, of course, I love to follow the Nittany Lions, in any and all sports.
Kevin: Is there anything specifically that you would like to say to Pirate Prospects’ readers or Pirates fans in general?
Frank: I appreciate the depth of the information and analysis that Pirates Prospects brings to our fans on a daily basis. Pirates Prospects is a must read for me, as it is for many of our fans who care very deeply about the organization and the young men who they will follow in Pittsburgh in the coming years. Thank you for putting the effort into getting it right.
Kevin: Thank you very much for your time and these answers and good luck this season.