MIAMI -- Today is likely to be John Russell's final game as the Pirates' manager, according to several internal sources.
Those sources strongly suggested Saturday that the team will not have Russell return in his current capacity for 2011, the final year of his contract, but that general manager Neal Huntington, whose contract also runs that long, is expected to remain. The decisions, which are being made by team president Frank Coonelly in consultation with owner Bob Nutting, should become known early this week.
The Pirates lost to Florida, 2-0, Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium, and the matinee against the Marlins today will end the season.
Coonelly has not addressed the topic of his top two baseball men since a late-August interview with the Post-Gazette in which he called the Pirates' performance an "embarrassment" and charged the team with "under-performing." He also said that "nobody's job is absolutely safe."
The Pirates' record is 57-104, tied for the third-most losses in franchise history. The team also ranks last in Major League Baseball in ERA and fielding percentage, next-to-last in batting average.
The cumulative record under Russell and Huntington, both hired in late 2007, is 186-298.
There was no word on the fate of Russell's coaches, most of whom have contracts that expire shortly after this season. But any managerial change tends to lead to great, if not wholesale, change of a staff.
Russell was asked before the game Saturday to offer his view of the season, and he replied mostly by citing the promise of an everyday lineup built on rookies Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez, as well as Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, the latter two in their first full season in the majors.
"The thing I look at most is how we developed our young players," Russell replied. "I can't remember since I've been here where we've had four-plus guys who can drive in runs for us. We've always had one or two, but you look at Walker, Pedro, Jones, McCutchen ... it's exciting to see. I think our offense is starting to get some type of identity where we can score runs now and, if we get good pitching, we've got a pretty good chance to win."
Of the team as a whole: "In a season like this, in my opinion, you look at how guys progress. As a team, we didn't progress in wins, but we progressed in maturity and, individually, I think we did some pretty good things. The message we told everybody in our meetings is that it wasn't good enough, that we've got to come in more prepared and better focused. But I think the growth we've shown in the past month and a half has been very encouraging."
The Pirates are 17-21 since Aug. 22. Russell's reference to meetings was describing regular pregame sessions in which he, the coaches and players gather in the clubhouse and openly discuss just about anything, including strategy for the game or reviewing the previous one. Several players have praised the meetings as productive.
Russell has been criticized by the fan base for seldom showing emotion or emerging from the dugout to argue close calls, but criticism within the clubhouse has been exceedingly rare. Mostly, they have sounded appreciative that he keeps an even keel and does not air out team issues in public. Even former players, with nothing to risk by speaking out, have had little negative to say.
Russell was asked Saturday how he maintained sanity through all the losing.
"It's been tough. I'm not going to lie to you," he replied. "It's been a tough three years, because we never really felt like we had one team over the three years. But also, starting in June, this is where we envisioned going, getting some very good players who are young, talented and that we have control over for a number of years. But it was tough. You see this team, how hard they competed, how much they wanted to win, and we kept falling short."
"For me, personally, it's rewarding in a sense to see these guys continuing to compete. But it has been a grind, because you want more for them, and you want more for the city and more for the organization. So, it's been a little trying. But I enjoy watching these guys play ... watching Pedro hit, the energy Tabata has, Cutch running around the bases, Garrett continuing to progress, Neil doing what he does, James McDonald's pitching, Charlie Morton coming back strong ... there are a lot of rewarding things. You hang your hat on that."
Hitting coach Don Long, third base coach Tony Beasley and bullpen coach Luis Dorante were part of Russell's original staff. First base coach and infield instructor Carlos Garcia joined the staff for this season. Bench coach Jeff Banister and pitching coach Ray Searage were promoted in August and hold their positions on an interim basis.
Beasley, like Russell, expressed the progress of the rookies, in particular.
"As a staff, we take it very seriously to help these players as much as we can and to get them to absorb as quickly as possible," Beasley said. "It's gratifying to see what they've done. We believed in them, and we stood behind them. And we weren't alone. Before they got here, the minor-league staff did an outstanding job preparing them as men, as professionals. But it's great for all of us to see them blossom like they have."
The Pirates have had six managers in their 18-year losing streak. The most recent to have a winning record was Chuck Tanner in 1977-85, at 711-685.