Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic

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Some feedback on the second Building Blocks piece, as advertised ...

Q: Dejan, the first round aside, will the Pirates pay over the recommended slot bonuses in later rounds? This is one way to bring in more premium players that other teams have embraced. The team's most recent draft appeared to be a penny-for-penny match of the recommended slots.

In 2001, the Pirates did draft Stephen Drew in 2001 and did not sign him. Whether he ever amounts to much, he still is a premium prospect with value.

Given the former job Frank Coonelly held, this still seems unlikely, despite what he said when hired.

Craig Rossetti of Mt Lebanon

KOVACEVIC: You raise a couple of good points, Craig, starting with the Pirates' drafts under Dave Littlefield and Ed Creech almost obsessively falling under the good-soldier category. Every slot was honored, up and down the list, with very few exceptions. Probably by no coincidence, the amount of late-round talent they amassed was minimal.

By comparison, Creech's successor, Mickey White, paid well above slot to get Nate McLouth, Zach Duke and Ian Snell in the 20th round and beyond. He ticked off a lot of people, including those in MLB offices, but the Pirates were the better for it.

As I have written previously, for the Pirates to play nice in an economic system that is inherently imbalanced makes zero sense. I do understand that the slotting structure keeps down costs for all teams and, thus, keeps the system somewhat fairer. But I also understand that making two or three exceptions in a draft, as so many teams do, is very much the norm.

Oh, and here is a link from this past summer to something I wrote about the Drew matter.

Anyway, to your actual Q: You are correct that Coonelly said on the day he was hired that the Pirates would go above slot if they felt they should, while following the proper protocol. You also are unmistakably correct that the proof in that pledge will not be clear until there is an actual draft to evaluate. And not just the first-rounder.

I also have heard from others in the organization, not the least of which is the owner, that the Pirates are placing a great priority on depth in the draft, as was described in the piece yesterday. No way that happens without some more money, and the team insists that money will be there.

Q: Having read your Building Blocks articles and viewing the information from a business perspective, the changes being implemented seem to be real and comprehensive in scope. Additionally, the desperation of a win-now-or-die philosophy does not seem to be there, which is good.

Few businesses look forward to losing $25 million a year, so I can't blame Bob Nutting for taking a patient approach. Oh, I can gripe, but it's not my money on the line.

It's hard to be patient after 15 years of failure, but what other choices does management have? What other choices do fans have?

Craig Schaefer of Williamsport

KOVACEVIC: The Pirates most assuredly are not losing money, Craig. Nor are they any threat to lose money. They are profitable, perhaps very much so, and have been for several years.

The moves you are seeing, according to the team, are not related to money. They are aimed at building up a real system of finding, teaching and instructing top talent in the mold of low-spending franchises who have been more successful in the past decade. (That would be all of them.) From there, as Bob Nutting said for the first time last week, the money can follow at the major-league level.

Obligatory disclaimer: The proof will come with the pay.

As for your patience, yes, I am guessing it will be tested, perhaps severely.

If the 2008 team fares poorly or even ordinarily, individual parts are sure to fly. Look at the contracts. Look at the years in which the players can become free agents. Look at the rest of the blueprint. The writing is there.

On the other hand, if John Russell, the coaches and, above all, the players do well right out of the gate, that could throw quite the wrench into things.

Q: As stated in the second Building Blocks article by Neal Huntington, "Latin America clearly needs to be the top priority of our international operations."

We are already way behind other franchises with regards to scouting in the Caribbean. Thus, it's great that we are finally playing catch-up. But why not jump ahead in the less scouted areas such as "Japan, South Korea, Australia and parts of western Europe," as mentioned in the article, and build academies or facilities on a smaller scale? If we spent $2.375 million on a facility in each general area, that's one Matt Morris. Heck, $1.5 million per facility would be a Jeromy Burnitz.

Brian Graham of Beaver

KOVACEVIC: The simple answer to your Q, as the Pirates have explained it, is a simple matter of logistics. They only have X number of people to work on something as ambitious as the planning of an academy, with all that goes into it from land purchase to design to knowing the territory and its needs (shelters on everything in the Dominican because of the rain there) and everything else.

Where I give new management credit on this front is that, rather than pretend they are active in parts of the world where they are not, they are coming right out and saying it was not practical in their first year to do Latin America and the rest of the globe.

One other point: Each situation will require its own approach.

One would not build an academy in Japan, for instance, because there are two high-level professional leagues there. What is needed is a set of connections, from scouts to promoting the Pirates' brand to establishing relationships with those leagues' executives, managers and professional players. In Australia and Europe, the academy approach would be the way to go. And you are correct that, if the Pirates took that approach on either of the latter two fronts, they would be ahead of the curve. (Whether it is worth being ahead of the curve is another matter. I spoke with international baseball officials in 2004 at the Athens Olympics, and the feeling at the time was that baseball was a niche game played mostly by transplanted Americans.)

Until tomorrow ...


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