Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic

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Lest anyone start getting cocky around here, these guys are on a bit of a roll, and some of them are even starting to talk a little trash. Their day of reckoning is tomorrow ...




Q: Dejan, reading positive after positive on Bob Nutting, Frank Coonelly, Neal Huntington, John Russell, Greg Smith, Kyle Stark and players such as Doug Mientkiewicz, one would be very excited about the direction our PBC is heading. I'm excited.

That being said, what, in your opinion, are the organization's weaknesses? What is NOT heading in the right direction and could possibly hold the club back?

I understand it is too early to evaluate most of the above, but what does not seem genuine or are you skeptical about?

Jordan Langue of South Side, Pittsburgh

KOVACEVIC: Well, first, Jordan, allow me to take exception to your characterization of those above pieces as "positive," at least from the standpoint of the intent behind writing them. I never go into writing anything thinking about whether to go positive or negative. I just go with whatever the material - or game or news - presents.

Stay with me here for a second ...

The Nutting piece raised the rather unpopular topics - with the Pirates, anyway - of perhaps his least popular quote, of the team's low payroll and of the team's inactive offseason. You might have liked his answers - some might not have - but there was no "positive" intent.

Similarly, the piece on Coonelly disclosed his role in rejecting the Jason Bay trade in December, the one on Huntington spent the first half of it going over how he weakened the bullpen and bench while making few other moves, the one on Smith went through all the pitchers he drafted in Detroit who had arm surgeries, the piece on Stark laid bare his very newby resume for the job he just got, and there were many other examples within those, too.

The Russell and Mientkiewicz pieces were simple interviews. Russell's was a Q&A about his spring plans, and Mientkiewicz ... man, that interview consisted of nothing more on my end than "Good morning, Doug." You read, essentially, his monologue from there.

Again, you might have liked some of what these people had to say. Others did not. Some readers balked, for example, at Smith prioritizing scouting over statistics in choosing which players to draft. But that does not make the story "negative" any more than it does "positive." It is there for you to take and have whatever reaction you please.

OK, to your point ...

I feel like I write this four times a week in the Q&A, but yes, there is enormous room for skepticism, even within the scope of a healthy dose of apparently sound planning. And that is for the simple reason that none of this matters, not even a little if ...

• 1. The team fails to evaluate talent properly.

Repeat this one again and again and again the next time you are feeling overly optimistic. Plain and simple, we have no idea right now - none of us - whether or not this management team can evaluate talent. All we know is that the bulk of Huntington's special assistants are holdovers from Dave Littlefield and the bulk of the amateur scouts remain the same, too. The chiefs have changed, not the Indians.

• 2. There is no sustainability to this.

Jim Tracy had a great first spring training, too. He really did. The drills were dynamite, and the players loved it. Trouble was, when Ronny Paulino repeatedly failed to catch balls from the outfield, the in-season instruction was not there. Instead, Tracy replied, "We do it enough," when asked how often the staff was working with Paulino to fix this. And his reference was to spring training.

• 3. There is no financial commitment when needed.

The Pirates can say payroll will increase once they feel good about their foundation, but there is no evidence to support the idea that money saved today will be money spent tomorrow. The franchise is profitable, possibly very profitable. But, because it is a private corporation, no one knows how much extra is there now and whether or not it will be applied.

Moreover, no one can say with any certainty what constitutes the right time to spend. What if that foundation never gets laid, at least not in some visible way, and the money never gets spent?

• 4. Repeat No. 1 on this list a few more times. Not much else really matters.

Most of those articles you cited above, Jordan, were from the Building Blocks series. Those were designed to give the reader a glimpse into the Pirates' plans, especially for the long term. And I am satisfied, based on the heavy feedback that came in here, that they achieved that.

But one has to be careful to distinguish plans from execution.




Q: Dejan, is it just me, or did Ronny Paulino obviously lack any sort of class or maturity while listening to the advice of Manny Sanguillen, a World Series-winning catcher, during the spring training video you guys posted?

He seemed to be cynically smiling, scratching his head and looking away while Sanguillen talked, whereas Ryan Doumit was showing respect and being attentive.

I may be a whiny Pirates fan, but that video reminded me of watching Paulino on television last season, laughing in the dugout after making crucial errors. And to me, that's just not the right attitude for a competitive athlete, especially one (hopefully) fighting for a starting job after an extremely disappointing second major-league season.

Adam Perry of Bethel Park

KOVACEVIC: As great as it has been to have Peter Diana's excellent videos up on our site this spring on a daily basis - he and I both have been getting emails about this, but he deserves all of them - it is worth reminding that caution is in order when examining a small slice of anything.

Spring training happens out of the eyes of the vast majority of the public, so I understand that there is a heightened interest in every story, every photo and now every video that comes out of Florida, and that goes for all teams. But, while some photos can indeed tell 1,000 words, such as Diana's unforgettable image of Jimmy Anderson's exposed belly a few years back, not everything is as it seems.

I spent a good bit of time later that same day with Sanguillen, Paulino and Doumit, and, to your point, Adam, there was a consensus between Sanguillen and Paulino that he was putting in the work needed to improve. But, as I wrote the other day, there are many, including Sanguillen, who still discuss Paulino's passion level as a work in progress. And no such issues are being raised about Doumit, who has been enthusiastic beyond description.

Make no mistake, by the way: There most definitely is a competition at catcher.




Q: Dejan, I enjoyed reading your article on Steve Blass' speech at Pirate City.

I currently teach effective speech at Penn State-New Kensington, and our next speech is a motivational/inspirational one. Do you have a copy of this speech that I could print and pass out to my students? I was actually hoping that I could find it on YouTube, but I guess they did not tape it.

Even if I don't get a copy of the speech, I plan on using sections of your article that describe Blass' preparation and direct quotes.

Marilyn Bartolacci of New Kensington

KOVACEVIC: There were many, many submissions asking about this. Here is another ...




Q: Dejan, I heard Steve Blass speak before, at the Pirates Caravan here in Youngstown a few weeks ago. He is very, very, good.

Is there any way his speech to the Pirate players yesterday could be printed by the PG? I think every Pirates fan could use the inspiration.

Joe Kengor of Youngstown, Ohio

KOVACEVIC: That would be up to Blass, Marilyn and Joe and everyone else who asked about this or simply wrote to share their emotions on the topic.

Honestly, I do not know if it was even recorded. The speech was held inside the Pirate City cafeteria, off limits to the public and media. The bits and pieces of it that I cobbled together for that story came from Blass' recollections and those of others in the room, notably John Grabow, who was seriously blown away. So were other players.

Maybe Blass has it written down, so you would have to ask him.

I suppose there are two ways to look at this:

One is that it would be a great thing to have, especially as a video to be able to keep in a YouTube kind of way, as Marilyn suggested. The fans probably would love it.

On the other hand, that speech was not intended for the public, the way Blass described it to me. He penned it for the people specifically in that room, just as the ones Blass gives to minor-leaguers eventually will be intended for them. If the Pirates were to release that, some might see it as kind of cheapening the whole thing, like some kind of promotion. From what I gather from those who were inside, that would be quite unfair.




Thing No. 71 that makes Pittsburgh great: Until you have spent in a place that has red lights every 50 feet, that has lines of people waiting to enter even the lamest of chain restaurants throughout the evening, that has someone here, there, every which way you turn ...

Do not complain about our population loss.

For one, it has mostly become a myth, by many accounts.

We do shrink with each Census, as a city, a county and region, but those losses are getting smaller all the time percentage-wise to the point of looking like they are leveling off. Moreover, as a deeper look inside the numbers shows, the people who are leaving us, by and large, are not leaving us for sunnier climes but are simply passing away. And, because we already have an older population, they are not immediately replaced with the same number of new children.

This notion that our high school and college graduates are bolting at the first opportunity has no basis in fact. None. Our colleges and universities have never had higher enrollments. We have one right Downtown in Point Park University that is swallowing up entire blocks as it expands. And the many ventures in tech, biomeds and other stuff that is way over a baseball writer's head are doing plenty to keep students - even those not originally from Pittsburgh - sticking around.

(And don't get me started on people who think Pittsburgh is a small city because its baseball team has made bad decisions for a decade and a half.)

This recent piece in our paper got me thinking about this, and being down here served as a painful reminder of why I agreed at least with the general premise of Jim Rohr's position: Once the population loss is successfully stemmed, we do not need growth to succeed. We are just fine the size we are.

As I often say, we are like New York, but we have just one of everything rather than nine or 10.

What is so awful about having one of everything rather than nine or 10, from sports teams to theaters to museums?

Or having traffic that, despite local misperceptions, does not come close to what they have in places like this, where it goes in all directions, not just through one half of a tunnel?

Or walking into a store or eatery, picking out what you want and buying it, all in a five-minute span?

Or having some of those same people actually remember your name?

We as a people, in Pittsburgh, agonize over some pretty dumb things. But nothing tops this.




Until tomorrow ...



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