Pirates to announce new manager on Monday

The Post-Gazette’s Phil Axelrod says that “Frank Coonelly confirmed yesterday the Pirates plan to name a new manager at a news conference Monday.”
The Beaver County Times’ John Perrotto speculates that Jim Tracy’s successor might be John Russell, currently the manager of Triple-A Lehigh Valley in the Phillies’ organization, and former Pirate third base coach.
It won’t be Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell.
As Wilbur said and Charlie echoed, who’s managing the team right now isn’t of the utmost importance. It’s necessary to rebuild the minor-league system over the next couple of years; we should be more concerned with who’ll be replacing Brian Graham and Ed Creech in the Pirates’ front office. Worry about the big-league manager in 2010 when we might sniff .500 if all goes well.

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Posted in 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates, Ed Creech, Frank Coonelly, Jim Tracy, John Russell. Comments Off on Pirates to announce new manager on Monday

Breaking news: Pirates to fire Jim Tracy today

Okay, so we knew it was coming—but now it’s really happening. The Post-Gazette’s Dejan Kovacevic says that the Pirates have called a press conference (set for 3:30 p.m.) to announce the firing of Jim Tracy.
Any details will come later; for now, go back to reading Dave’s article on the Pirates who could, should and will be traded this off-season.
UPDATE, 2:45:
From MLB.com:

The Pirates also dismissed senior director of player development Brian Graham, senior director of scouting Ed Creech and director of baseball operations Jon Mercurio.
Doug Strange, formerly assistant GM, will now serve the club as a special assistant to Huntington.

Look for the Pirates to rebuild again in 2008

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “Stats Geek,” Brian O’Neill, was on Mark Madden’s ESPN radio show yesterday afternoon discussing all things Pirates. Of course the talk eventually shifted to the hiring of Neal Huntington and the task at hand: rebuilding the Pittsburgh Baseball Club into the proud franchise it once was.
There are sure to be a number of problems for Huntington this off-season, most solvable with pink slips. Fire Jim Tracy? Fire Brian Graham? Fire Ed Creech?
All important questions to have answered quickly, certainly.
But there’s one question that reigns supreme—one question whose answer could very well determine what direction this team goes for the next half-decade or more: Should the Pirates continue trying to contend in a weak NL Central, or should they commit to rebuilding in 2008?
Pick the wrong path and you’re staring 20 consecutive losing seasons straight in the eye.
O’Neill said that Dave Littlefield had “Bonifayed” his successor, making a reference to the albatross contracts that the former general manager left in his wake in 2001. A quick look at the ledger proves his is a legitimate argument.
Matt Morris is due $9.5 million in 2008. Jack Wilson, Jason Bay, Adam LaRoche, Xavier Nady and Freddy Sanchez will combine for another $25 million or so. That doesn’t leave much room under the self-imposed $45-55 million cap, even for a team whose roster is made up primarily of inexperienced players earning the league’s minimum salary.
If the Pirates want to win and win now, they’ll have to pray for marked improvements from the likes of Ronny Paulino, Jose Bautista, Zach Duke, Morris and Bay. They aren’t willing to afford a big-ticket free agent; what you see is what you’ll get.
Much attention has been paid to the Cleveland Indians—Huntington’s former employer and the team after which Frank Coonelly has chosen to model the Pirates. As Wilbur said in yesterday’s PG chat, “The Cleveland way of doing things was to blow up the team when [Mark] Shapiro took over. That’s where much of their core came from.”
And that must be the direction the Pirates are headed.
You’d have to assume that Matt Morris won’t be wearing black and gold in 2008; as I’ve said time and again, you can only spend $10 million on a fourth starter if you’re going to increase payroll. Jack Wilson and Xavier Nady could be sell-high candidates. Jason Bay might price himself out of the Pittsburgh market, and would bring a handsome return even after a disappointing season.
Expect this winter to be a wild rollercoaster ride, and expect next year’s Pirates to have an appreciably different look than the 2007 version. Neal Huntington’s job is to bring a culture of winning to our ballclub, and I wish him the best as he heads to 115 Federal Street for his first full day at the office.

Pirates Must Pair Coonelly with Talent Evaluator

I’ll admit that I’m still digesting all the Coonelly news, trying to make sense of exactly what has happened. I think we’re all a little surprised that so much has gone down so soon, especially considering the state the franchise is in. It’s not as if our Pittsburgh Pirates had all of a sudden hit a sour note; we’ve been in the dumper for 15 years. Two monumental decisions were made in the past two days after none had been made in the last six years.
In any case, we’re all trying to piece together what’s going on in an attempt to take a guess as to what’s coming next. The Pirates still need to find a new general manager; make decisions on the coaching staff, front office personnel and scouts; decide whether or not there’s enough talent in place to compete in 2008. The rollercoaster ride of news headlines has just started.
Forgive me for jumping the gun, throwing out an opinion on a situation I’m still learning about—but I think I know which puzzle piece needs to be put into place now.
The Pirates must pair their president, Frank Coonelly, with a general manager who has a keen eye for talent.
I keep pointing to this interview Nutting gave, but only because it’s so important:

One thing that I have learned in the search process for the president … is that there are two very distinct skill sets that we need; one for the general manager, [an individual with a] single-minded focus on the baseball operation, and then a second person, the president, who has overall responsibility—[who] needs to be grounded in the fundamentals of baseball but doesn’t have the day-to-day focus for making the moves that the general manager is charged with.

Coonelly meshes with that second job description perhaps better than any other candidate could. He has an intricate knowledge of the financial aspect of the game, from the draft to free agency to arbitration. He knows the biz of baseball as well as anyone, and that’s absolutely essential to an organization like ours where prudent spending is so crucial.
Now, the Pirates must make an attempt to bring on a general manager who can complement Coonelly’s offerings. And to do that, they need to find someone with a strong scouting and development background. They need a GM who can pick the needle from the haystack. Coonelly will properly allocate the resources; the GM must divvy the dollars up among the most qualified players.
Let’s be realistic: Just because the Pirates have made encouraging front office decisions doesn’t mean that they’re any closer to upping their payroll to $70 million. What is does mean is that they’re trying to bring in the individuals who can do the most with what they’re given.
We’ve heard the names of Paul DePodesta, Tony LaCava, Walt Jocketty, Dan Duquette and others mentioned in the same breath as the CEO vacancy. If I’m Frank Coonelly, I’m making an effort to bring aboard a similar-type candidate to fill the general manager opening. I don’t want another Dave Littlefield, a guy who’s trying to cut his teeth in professional baseball. I want someone who knows how an organization needs to be run from rookie ball to the major leagues.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Coonelly will have an impact on improving the Pirates’ draft strategies, international presence and the like—the business stuff. But to maximize his return, Coonelly should bring on another bright mind that can consistently succeed in player development, free agency and trades—someone who knows how to buy low and sell high.
If the Pirates ace the general manager hiring, they might just be headed in a promising direction. Picking up Coonelly seems to be a solid first step, but there’s still a long way to go.

Littlefield Fired: Where Do We Go From Here?

As Randy noted earlier, Dave Littlefield was relieved of his duties as Pirates general manager today.
I especially liked the open letter on Pirates.com titled “Chairman Nutting’s letter to fans.” This paragraph says it all:

After eight months of listening and analyzing the situation, it has become clear that this decision was necessary to move our organization forward. While there are many bright spots for us to build from, I am not satisfied with the overall performance and progress that has been made.

Littlefield had served in his current role since July 31, 2001, and is at least partially responsible for the hapless state of our organization. Littlefield, of course, had the ability to hire and fire his own staff, but a stingy ownership group didn’t give him many resources to work with; Ed Creech, his scouting director, and Brian Graham, his director of player development, made sure that the minor leagues produced as little talent as possible through the draft.
Consequently, Graham was named as interim general manager, a tag that’s sure to be removed when the Pirates’ new chief executive is brought on board in the next two months and hires his own underlings.
A new team president and general manager will have their hands full rebuilding a messy situation:

  • The Pirates’ 40-man roster currently features more fat than meat; they’ll do well to trim the likes of Tony Armas, Shawn Chacon and the aging marginal players—think Jonah Bayliss, Shane Youman, Carlos Maldonado, Brad Eldred, Jose Castillo and Chris Duffy.
  • To be viewed as a competitive squad next year, the Pirates will need to bring in legitimate stopgaps at center field and third base; fill the gaping hole that is the fifth starter’s spot; and shore up a bullpen that has little strength past Matt Capps and Damaso Marte.
  • The Pirates must begin dominating the draft. The slow starts put together by Brad Lincoln and Daniel Moskos certainly couldn’t have helped Littlefield’s case; while both may turn out to be serviceable pitchers in time, the Pirates have seen no immediate progress from either first-round pick.

As I wrote Wednesday, the Pirates have reached a state of no return. They have a decent core built up for the present in Jason Bay, Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez and Xavier Nady, and a young quartet of pitchers—Matt Capps, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm and Ian Snell—to build around. They have three prospects who should be ready to step into a major-league lineup by 2009 at the latest: Andrew McCutchen, Steve Pearce and Neil Walker are the future.
But the Pirates don’t have enough to win now as-is, and they don’t have enough to win later. New management must decide whether the Pirates intend to compete in 2008, or if they’ll turn an eye to 2009 and beyond. Tip-toeing through the gray area in between did nothing for Littlefield but cause him to lose his job.

Pirate CEO Talk Makes for Good Blog Entertainment

I think we’re all painfully aware of just how critical the Pirates’ hiring of a new chief executive is to the long-term well-being of the franchise. The results of the next decade of seasons could very well be directly tied to this one front office move. Pick the wrong guy to steer the ship and a perennial loser is indefinitely shipwrecked.
In a yet to be released interview for Sports Weekly, I chimed in with my $.02 on the issue:

SW: If you bought [the Pirates], who would you fire first?
CH: Ed Creech, the Pirates’ scouting director: We haven’t had a solid draft in the entirety of Dave Littlefield’s reign as general manager, and the farm system is hurting as a result. But Brian Graham, director of player development, and Littlefield himself would be able to join Creech on the first plane out of town.
SW: Since you probably can’t buy the team, who should?
CH: I’m not convinced that we need new ownership just yet. Bob Nutting, who became the public face of the team within the past year, hasn’t made any horrible decisions. As long as he hires a legitimate “baseball man” to serve as the Pirates’ new chief executive—as he said he is the plan—I’m willing to give him a little rope.
The popular answer to this question would be Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban, but I’m not sure the Pirates would be able to support a free-spending owner. Nutting’s every move is calculated, and if he surrounds himself with the right people, he could be the right man for this team. You don’t need a $100 million payroll to put together a contender.

Notice how I don’t name names—nor have I even broached the subject in any depth on this blog. Who’s the right man for the job? I haven’t a clue. I’ve done my fair share of research as headlines are made, but I won’t claim to have a thorough enough knowledge of baseball’s inner workings to pick one candidate out of what must be a stack of dozens of legitimate resumes.
Recently, John Perrotto wrote in the Beaver County Times that he supported Pittsburgher Tony LaCava—currently Toronto’s director of player personnel—in the political race for the Pirates’ front office vacancy.
Two days beforehand, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Paul Meyer discussed Nutting’s process for the search. Previously the P-G had also mentioned Dan Duquette as a CEO possibility.
This much is known:

  • “I would be surprised if baseball people don’t [recognize the name of] the final successful candidate,” Nutting said.
  • “What I’ve learned and decided is, we want to have a single person who will be an overall team president with full responsibility for the club,” Nutting said.

Past that, we’re in the dark. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we stay that way until Nutting makes his decision. Once he does, I’ll pay him his due—that is, so long as he chooses an individual who possesses the skill—and is given the authority—to productively hire and fire at will.
If you’re interested in reading a little more about what my Pirate blog colleagues have to say about the potential candidates, check out this handful of links. I think I’m going to stay out of what’s turning into a soap opera:

I’ll say this much: Any executive with a baseball background will be a serious upgrade over our current operation. With much respect for McClatchy’s business savvy, it’s of unspeakable importance that Nutting chooses to bring aboard someone who knows how the game works.
Duquette, LaCava, Walt Jocketty: I imagine I’d be satisfied with anyone along those lines, though I don’t doubt there’s an appreciable difference even between the baseball candidates. But as long as we don’t have a newspaperman trying to learn the sporting world on the fly—or acting as another schill in an effort to make a quick buck—I’ll consider the hiring to be a step in a positive direction.
After that, we can start to talk about the futures of Dave Littlefield and Jim Tracy…

Amateur Draft Analysis – Rounds 6-10

6. Matt Foust, RHP, Nebraska
– Foust, despite being a college junior, had thrown only 12.2 innings for the ‘Huskers before the 2007 season. Foust redshirted in 2004 following shoulder surgery, but barely took the field in ’05 and ’06 due to poor conditioning. Foust got himself in shape prior to the 2007 season, dropping 20 pounds to a more reasonable 225 on his 6-3 frame. Foust throws an 90-94 MPH fastball as well as a hard slider that sits in the mid-80’s. Foust’s fastball is described as “true” (meaning it’s fairly straight) and PG Crosschecker notes that Foust’s slider can flatten out when he drops his elbow lower than normal from his three-quarters delivery. Foust is said to project better as a reliever. Foust posted a 4.02 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 32 walks in 65 innings.
7. Juan Garcia, C, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
– Garcia is abnormally fast for a catcher (6.5 in the 60-yard dash, 4.1 seconds down the first base line, according to PG Crosschecker.) Garcia uses that athleticism behind the plate, as he is fast out of the crouch and gets rid of the ball quickly. At 5-10, 180 pounds, Garcia would not appear to project as a power threat. PG Crosschecker calls Garcia a “slashing hitter”, though they also note that he has been showing scouts more power than expected this spring.
8. Maurice Bankston, RHP, Texarkana (Texas) CC
– Bankston is a 6-4, 190 pound Junior College sophomore that offers a good deal of projection. Bankston’s fastball sits in the 91-93 MPH range, and his curveball has been showing signs of improvement as well, though PG Crosschecker says Bankston’s breaking ball and command “aren’t considered average yet.”
9. Tony Watson, LHP, Nebraska
– The second Cornhusker pitcher selected by the Pirates, Watson was a draft-eligible sophomore in 2006 who was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 17th round. Watson turned down a six-figure bonus to return to Nebraska, and has seen his stuff take a step back. The 6-4, 220 pound Watson does not have the power repetoire that his frame would suggest. Watson’s fastball sits at 86-88 MPH (down a tick or two from ’06), though he spots the pitch well. Watson’s best pitch is his changeup, and he also throws a fringe-average slider. Watson has an injury history, having torn his labrum before he reached college. Watson posted a 4.09 ERA with 81 strikeouts and 30 walks in 99 innings.
10. Sean Giblin, RHP, Pearl River HS (NY)
– Giblin is a 6-3, 200 pounder with a scholarship to the University of Rhode Island. Giblin’s fastball has been clocked at 93 MPH (according to Lower Hudson Online.) Giblin’s projectable frame gives hope that he can add a tick or two to his fastball and improve the command ofhis 12-to-6 curveball.
Late Round Picks of Note
20. Brian Tracy, RHP, UC Santa Barbara
– Jim Tracy’s son. This would appear to be a favor pick, as Tracy was not ranked among the top 160 players in the state of California by PG Crosschecker, and he posted a 5.03 ERA with more walks (38) than strikeouts (26) in 53.2 innings.
28. Matt Clark, 3B, Riverside CC (CA)
– Clark began his collegiate career at UC Santa Barbara, but transferred after one season as a part-time player. Clark has a smooth lefthanded stroke with good bat speed and power. At 6-5, 230 pounds, Clark has below average speed and range, and will more than likely have to shift across the diamond to first base. As is the case with all first baseman, Clark will have to rake to be considered a legitimate prospect.
43. Cameron Rupp, C, Prestonwood Christian Academy (TX)
– Rupp (6-3, 230 pounds) is a very intriguing late-round selection, possessing very good raw power, bat speed, arm strength, and athleticism. However, Rupp is a raw receiver, and some scouts question if he’ll be able to make use of his power, as Rupp can be jammed by mediocre fastballs. Rupp is a Texas Longhorns recruit, and is considered a tough sign.
47. Robbie Broach, RHP, Archbishop Rummel HS (LA)
– Broach (6-1, 195 pounds) possesses an 87-90 MPH fastball with a curveball that can be a plus pitch at times. Broach’s frame does not lend itself to projectability, so it seems unlikely that he will add additional velocity to his fastball. Broach’s delivery looks somewhat violent, and would be considered “max-effort.” Broach’s stuff was inconsistent this spring, which PG crosschecker attributes to his playing third base when he didn’t pitch. Broach has a strong commitment to Tulane, and would require a significant bonus to sign.