Bob Nutting, the Pirates' owner, described himself as "frustrated" and "shocked" by the team's performance to date Friday afternoon. But he also met with general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell to let them know they have his support.
Though not without a caveat.
"The message was that I believe in them, I believe in the process, and I believe in the future of this team," Nutting said in an interview with the Post-Gazette at PNC Park. "And they need to deliver on that optimism, but they also need to know they can do it without having to look over their shoulders. They can do it with the full support of the organization. As long as they're in those positions, we need to move forward together."
Asked about the extensions team president Frank Coonelly gave Huntington and Russell last October, Nutting added, "I really think the contract issue is a red herring in that we have shown consistently that we're willing to walk from a contract. So, as a practical matter, I'm not sure it really means much. That's part of why there was no bally-hoo with the announcement. People are fired mid-contract all the time. It's happened in Pittsburgh. I hope we never get to be in a position that we're willing to accept inadequate performance from anyone just because they have a contract."
Of Coonelly's decision to keep those extensions secret until Thursday: "I understand Frank's reasons for not wanting to announce them. And, in retrospect, I think everybody would have played the process somewhat differently."
Coonelly's reasoning, it is believed, is that the philosophy in the Major League Baseball commissioner's office where he worked for a decade has been that executive contracts should stay out of the public eye. Coonelly, too, has expressed regret over his handling of the matter.
The Pirates had lost 11 in a row and were 20 games under .500 at the time of Nutting's interview Friday, this after he had predicted a significant improvement over the 62-99 record of last season.
"I'm frustrated but also shocked. Angry. Surprised at where we are," Nutting said. "Some of the individual performances are not what we expected, as you've seen from some of the roster moves that have been made. But there's no way to adequately express the level of frustration verbally. It's an emotionally challenging and difficult time. And this should have been a really exciting week for us."
The latter was a reference to the arrival of top prospects Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln, all during the streak.
Nutting was asked about his own accountability in the team's performance, given the $36 million payroll.
"Neal has addressed that the dollars for payroll weren't driven so much by the budget limitations as by the players we wanted to have on the field. They're very young players. Payroll is driven by the age and experience of those players. As those players mature, those dollars are going to need to mature with them. I think that the payroll continues to be a distraction from the process of building the team."
Nutting did not specify what payroll might look like in 2011.
He then was asked, if he is as frustrated as he describes, why there have been no changes above the player level.
"I think it's better not to discuss staffing changes as a public forum. But I also believe that we have the right people in place, and I believe in the people in place so long as they are moving us forward. As soon as we don't believe in those people, that's when you make a change. Is John Russell responsible for the record? Yeah. Are we all responsible for it? Absolutely. But does that mean that, given the players we have on the field today, he's not the right person to develop that clubhouse and bring these guys along and make them the future Pirates that we expect? I think he's the right guy to do it."
Nutting reiterated, yet again, that the Pirates are not for sale.
• Andy LaRoche continued to do extra work at second base and is getting "pretty close" to being able to play in a game there, Russell said. The current focus is on the double-play pivot.
• First baseman Steve Pearce, rehabilitating with high Class A Bradenton, should move up to Class AAA Indianapolis within two or three days.
• The Pirates signed two more draft picks, fifth-rounder Tyler Waldron and 12th-rounder Vincent Payne, both right-handed pitchers. The signee total is eight.
• In an attempt to lighten the mood in the afternoon, more than a dozen players donned too-small replica Andrew McCutchen No. 22 jerseys for a workout. "Not my idea," McCutchen said. "I already had one."