The Pirates will retain their top front-office personnel, owner Bob Nutting confirmed Tuesday, a decision made as a result of Nutting's investigation into his organization after a second consecutive fall from playoff contention.
In an interview with local reporters Tuesday at PNC Park, Nutting described his investigation and said he considered replacing members of his front office, but opted against it to avoid creating scapegoats and because of the team's progress the past two years. As a result, he will not fire team president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington or assistant general managers Kyle Stark, who is in charge of player development, and Greg Smith, who oversees scouting.
"We considered all kinds of alternatives," Nutting said. "At the end of the day, the progress that the organization has made, when you look at the seven-game improvement last year, more than 20-game improvement over two years, the rankings of the development system, we do have a much stronger organization than we did."
Nutting spoke with executives from other teams, members of the commissioner's office of Major League Baseball and players inside and outside the Pirates organization as he sought answers for the fall from 16 games over .500 in early August to a 79-83 record, the 20th consecutive losing record for the team.
The organization used comparative analysis with the idea of finding correlation in its investigation, which Nutting said is ongoing. Nutting and his staff went through every free agent signed and every player drafted during the current front office's five-year tenure, comparing them to the rest of the free-agent class at that position or the rest of the players drafted in that round. While Nutting declined to discuss what correlations he found or what specifically will change, he said the team adjusted its ranking of potential free-agent acquisitions for this winter as a result of the study.
"What did we see, what did we miss, where were we consistently good, where were we consistently bad, how do we not do it again?" Nutting said. "Because we cannot afford, from performance or financially, to screw these up."
When asked about the team's payroll in relation to signing free agents, Nutting said: "We've been committed to increasing payroll. My expectation is that we have grown the payroll and will continue to do that."
Pirates free agents in recent years, such as Erik Bedard, Rod Barajas, Nate McLouth, Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay, have underperformed.
"I think we've known that it's not a great place for us to source talent," Nutting said of free agency. "It's a difficult marketplace."
Nutting called the selection of Stanford right-hander Mark Appel in the first round of the 2012 draft "an opportunity for reflection." Appel, a Scott Boras advisee, refused to accept a $3.8 million offer, the most the Pirates could give without losing a draft pick under the new collective bargaining agreement, and returned to school for his senior year.
"I don't think that we had a bad pick, but I'm not sure that it was the right result," Nutting said.
Nutting implied that the Pirates will halt the military-style training of their minor leaguers, for which the team received criticism in the past month.
"We should not be, will not be, are not, a paramilitary organization," Nutting said. "We should not be and are not running a boot camp. That's not the intent. We should be focusing on baseball drills.
"That's certainly been one of the areas where we've had significant discussions and review, but, at the end of the day, I know and we know that we will not, should not be running boot camps."
Nutting took his time before speaking publicly about his study, he said, to allow the anger and concern he felt at the end of the season to subside.
"I'm glad we didn't have this discussion the last day of the season," he said. "I was angry, fans were angry. That's not when any of us make our best, smartest decisions."
He said his role in the front office will not change.
"This process was really just as much to reassure me that we have all of the pieces in place that we can, that we're making the necessary adjustments, that we're being honest in our self-reflection, and that we do indeed have the right people in place," he said.
While noting that the front office needed a variety of experts as part of getting those pieces in place, Nutting mentioned a desire to add scouts with an instinctive knack for the game to complement the team's heavy reliance on statistical analysis and advanced metrics.
"We need to have more scouts with a strong sense of the gut and the feel of, 'He's a gamer, he can play, he can contribute,' " Nutting said.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published November 7, 2012 5:15 AM