Pirates brass catches some flak from fans at fest

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Within the first 10 minutes of the question-and-answer session with Pirates management at PirateFest Friday night David L. Lawrence Convention Center, a season ticket-holder reached brass tacks.

"After the fiasco of the last two Augusts and Septembers, what can you say that would encourage people, fans, to invest our time, our hearts and our money in this franchise that has now failed for 20 years?" the man asked, drawing applause from the crowd.

Team president Frank Coonelly responded: "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."

Asked about how to prevent another second-half drop in 2013, general manager Neal Huntington stressed physical and mental toughness to play through an entire season.

"It's on us in the front office, it's on our coaches, it's on our players, it's on everything that we do," Huntington said.

Fans also asked Coonelly, Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle about payroll and television contracts, and 2012 first-round draft selection Mark Appel.

They also touched on trade rumors, Jeff Karstens and Hurdle's preferred brand of bubble gum. One fan sang a Pirates version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to the trio.

Coonelly said the Pirates' 2013 payroll could approach $70 million.

"We're moving in the right direction," he said.

Coonelly also told fans that the Pirates' signing bonus from their TV rights deal with Root Sports helped the Pirates spend heavily in the amateur draft before the new collective-bargaining agreement limited draft allocation.

More than one fan asked about Appel, a Stanford right-hander advised by agent Scott Boras who opted against signing with the Pirates and returned to school for his senior season. Boras said at the winter meetings that the Pirates stood little chance of signing Appel.

Coonelly confirmed Boras' statement that the Pirates didn't contact Boras before drafting Appel and referred to the fallout from the 2007 draft, before the current front office's tenure began. That year, the Pirates passed on Boras' client, catcher Matt Wieters and took left-handed pitcher Daniel Moskos instead.

"When we came in the next year, we promised you and everybody in this room that, when we draft players, we're going to take the best player who's on the board regardless of his agent, regardless of any demands that may have been rumored in the press," Coonelly said.

Huntington responded to a question about Karstens, whom the Pirates non-tendered entering his final year of arbitration, by pointing to Karstens' injury risk compared to his estimated salary.

"At $4 million or thereabouts, in some markets, that's a no-brainer," Huntington said.

"Right or wrong, we felt we were best doing something else. When healthy the last two years, he's pitched very well, but the biggest concern there is the 'when healthy' part of it. We need to be wise with our money. It may turn out to be a really bad decision, and we know that."

Huntington also faced questions on the future of reliever Joel Hanrahan and outfielder-first baseman Garrett Jones, who will both receive large raises through arbitration this winter. He said the Pirates can afford to begin the season with both Hanrahan, who will earn roughly $7 million in 2013, and Jason Grilli, who recently agreed to a two-year, $6.75 million contract that will pay him $2.75 million in 2013, on the roster.

Regarding Jones, Huntington said, "I can't promise anything. ... Our plan is for Garrett to be here."

Hurdle said the Pirates promoted Class AAA Indianapolis hitting coach Jeff Branson to assistant hitting coach on the major league staff, a move Huntington alluded to at the winter meetings.

No one asked about the Pirates' use of military-style training techniques with some of their minor league players, an issue that drew criticism this fall.

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter: @BrinkPG. First Published December 15, 2012 5:00 AM


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