Ask Pirates Management is always one of the bigger draws at PirateFest and a standing room crowd attended this one. Here are most of the questions as well as gist answers provided [these are not direct quotes unless shown but rather a summation of longer answers]. A couple questions were definitely head scratchers and the season ticket holders who normally don’t hold back were rather tame this time.
(Key: NH = Neal Huntington, CH = Clint Hurdle, FC = frank Coonelly
Q1: Are you guys getting a new starter?
NH: I feel good about guys internally that are ready to step up but we will explore the free agent and trade markets.
Q2: Clint, what bubble gum do you chew?
CH: I am a diverse chewers. Big League Chew, Bazooka, Double Bubble. Pretty much any gum with sugar.
Q3: On signing of Felix Pie and if he has a chance to make the team
NH: Our outfield has ‘solid depth’. If he opens eyes, he has a good chance depending on what others do. Starling Marte, Alex Presley, Jose Tabata and Alex Presley are ‘four young guys ready to step up’
He said it: CH ‘I didn’t come here to get my backside thumped’
Q7: How will the team improve on the basepaths?
CH: We had a dramatic regression on the basepaths last season and that is a big reason why Luis Silverio now has a different position with the team. There may have been ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ giving players advice. What happened last season was ‘unacceptable at this level’.
Q8: Why is Jeff Karstens gone?
NH: $4 million in some markets is a no-brainer. We felt it was best to do something else. The key is when healthy and that was a concern. We talked to him about a deal and then tried trading him. We are working to try and get a deal done.
Q9 What is the progress on Charlie Morton and Josh Bell?
NH: Morton is on if not ahead of schedule. He is light throwing and targeting a May-July return [best timetable he had]. Bell it is hard to say since he has been day to day for a year but he has been working very hard and we expect him to participate in Spring Training.
Q10: On what payroll is expected to be
FC: Payroll at the end of 2012 season was $61 million and the 2013 payroll may approach $70 million by start of season.
Q11: Do you expect Garrett Jones to be here?
NH: Yes, the plan is for him to be here but I can’t promise anything.
Q12: On if Huntington will stop trading prospects away like ‘Pokemon Cards’
NH: The goals have changed. We traded prospects for Wandy Rodriguez because we felt he would make us better in 2012, 2013 and possibly 2014. You need to trade the right prospects at the right time.
Q13: On TV contract
FC: We are well positioned with our TV contract. It is much higher than the number reported.
He said it: CH- “Jeff Branson is our assistant hitting coach.”
This was the first time this was mentioned. Whether or not this was a slip of the mouth from Hurdle or he wanted to tell the season ticket holders first is unknown but neither Huntington or Coonelly looked panicked immediately after and in fact the former shook his head in agreement. The addition to the coaching staff was available when Mark Strittmatter left the team. Branson was a coach for Triple-A Indianapolis last season but joined the Pirates after their season was over.
Q14: On the Astros leaving the division
FC: It made no sense that the NL Central had 6 teams and the AL West had four. That gave the National League 16 teams and the American League 14. 15-15 ‘makes sense’. I am glad they didn’t ask us, I would have said no.
Q15: On Clint Hurdle’s contract getting closer to its end
FC: ‘We can expect that’s Clint’s going to be here a long time’. He has also become big in the community as well.
Q16: On Andrew Oliver
CH: I am happy with him. I got to see the tape and he has a big arm. In the long haul we see him as a starter but if we need another lefty in the bullpen that option is in play. Hopefully a change of scenary will help him.
Q17: On Mark Appel situation/would you draft him again if he is best available
FC: A year before we came on, we missed Matt Wieters and we promised to draft the best available which we did with Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole. We offered him as much as we could under the new rules and he declined.
NH: Appel probably thought he was going to be taken first and was expecting to be paid over $7 million and the most we could offer was $3.8 million. He turned it down and we wish him the best. Negotiations often are about bluffs and in five years we’ve signed 100 players. If we believed the agents then 40 of those guys would not be signed. If Appel is the best player available when we draft, then yes we would draft him again.
Final word: Coonelly on what encouragement could be provided to fans who have endured 20 years of losing-
“We’re going to learn from the good times We’re going to learn from being 16 games over .500. We’re also going to learn from the fact that we have failed over the end of the season and we’re going to figure out how to finish. We’re going to figure out how to be not only physically tough enough to make it through that grind for an entire year, but to be mentally tough enough as well.”
PirateFest continues Saturday from 12-7 and Sunday 12-5. For ticket prices and more info go to www.pittsburghpirates.com.