Highlights From Interviews With Neal Huntington, Frank Coonelly

PITTSBURGH - JULY 19: Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington talks to reporters prior to the game against the Cincinnati Reds on July 19, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Friday night at PirateFest, Vlad and I spoke to Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington, along with a couple of Pirates players. Joining us were Kevin and Matt from Pirates Prospects, Tom from RumBunter, Brian from Raise The Jolly Roger, and Jon from The "Mc" Effect. Thanks to Brian Warecki from the Pirates and to Tom for making this happen. Here are some highlights.

-P- Frank Coonelly said the Pirates' draft pool next year would be "around 10," as in 'around $10 million,' assuming the Bucs get a compensation pick for Derrek Lee. (They're already getting one for Ryan Doumit.) I'm not totally sure how the math works on that one, but there was a limited amount of time, so I felt like I needed to trust him to have done his own math on that. That said, I'd still like to see the breakdown - there's a $4.3 million difference between the recommended values of the eighth selection, which is where the Pirates pick, and the first, and the Astros (who are picking first, are only supposed to get a pool of $11.5 million. Those numbers would mean that the Pirates would be able to spend $2.8 million on the two comp picks, which seems unlikely to me. Obviously, though, if the Pirates got a $10 million draft pool, that would be much better than I expected.

-P- Coonelly said that the new CBA protects the Pirates from over-the-top draft spending by teams in larger markets. However, he says he still lobbied for "more substantial advantages based on market size" in the draft, as opposed to where teams finished in the previous season, and the Bucs did not receive as many of those kinds of advantages as Coonelly would have preferred.

-P- I asked Coonelly how the Pirates' near-term strategy signing amateurs in Latin America would be affected by changes in the new CBA. Coonelly noted that Latin American signings are not governed by the new CBA until July, and so Rene Gayo tried to figure out if there are any top talents who are eligible to sign before then. I asked if that meant the Pirates might try to throw some money around in Latin America before July, the way they did in last year's draft. Coonelly said he's thought about that, but that he and Gayo are of the opinion that there aren't a lot of players who are currently eligible to sign who are deserving of big money.

Coonelly also said the new CBA would prevent some teams (he wouldn't say who) from spending tons of money internationally without doing the appropriate level of scouting.

-P- Coonelly downplayed the importance of enormous TV contracts like the one the Angels recently agreed upon, on the grounds that the Pirates and other teams who did not have access to such TV contracts would receive some of that money back in revenue sharing.

-P- Coonelly said the Pirates support increasing minor-league player salaries and per diems so that minor-leaguers can eat better, but Major League Baseball as a whole would have to take care of that.

-P- Neal Huntington said the Pirates like Rule 5 pick Gustavo Nunez's abilities to field, run, and throw, and because the Pirates expect Neil Walker and Clint Barmes to play a lot as their infield starters, they may be able to keep Nunez on the roster the whole year. Nonetheless, Huntington isn't a big fan of the Rule 5 draft. "Even though we've taken a guy each of my five years here, I don't like the Rule 5 draft. I think it stagnates players' development ... If they'd done away with it in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, I would have been the first one to stand up and say, 'That's a good move.'"

-P- Huntington continued to say what he's been saying about Lee, which is that the Pirates are interested in having Lee come back, but Lee is exploring the free-agent market. It sounds like the Pirates are satisfied with Garrett Jones at first base, particularly now that they've also acquired Casey McGehee as well. Nick Evans and Jake Fox are still in the mix for bench spots.

-P- "I don't know that the New York Mets are looking to trade Ike Davis anytime soon," Huntington said. He didn't confirm that the Pirates had pursued Davis, and he doesn't sound too hopeful that the Mets will trade him anyway.

-P- Huntington repeatedly said that he's assuming Charlie Morton will be healthy to start the season. Morton says he'll be ready, and the medical reports so far have been positive. If Morton isn't ready to start the season, Brad Lincoln provides a good fallback option.

-P- Huntington generally doesn't like the idea of taking a pitcher who has been a reliever - like Chris Resop, Chris Leroux or Tony Watson - and putting him in the rotation, because having a player throw so many more pitches in a season is "risky."

-P- Huntington said that in recent years he has come to more greatly appreciate "the value of the intangibles and the non-quantifiable." He went on to say, however, that it's tough for a player to be a leader if he himself is not playing well, even if he's being professional about it. In other words, players like Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay weren't able to lead effectively once it became clear that they weren't playing well.

-P- Huntington repeated that the goal of the minor-league system is not to have players put up ridiculous-looking performances that impress prospect evaluators, but rather to prepare them to play in the majors. He seemed to think Jameson Taillon, for example, could have destroyed Class A batters last season if he had been allowed full use of his breaking ball, but the Pirates wanted him to work on commanding his fastball instead.

-P- Huntington said that Gerrit Cole would probably start the 2012 season at Bradenton.

-P- We also spoke to Chris Resop and Clint Barmes, and I'll have more on those interviews later this weekend. Resop, in particular, was a really funny guy, and it turned out that a lot of our conversation with him focused on the differences between Major League and Japanese baseball. I think the whole Resop interview is probably worth transcribing, but I'll get to that later.

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