Hot Stove: Pirates, Coonelly support cap
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Add the Pirates to the small -- but growing -- list of Major League Baseball teams publicly speaking in favor of a salary cap.
Team president Frank Coonelly, who worked a decade in commissioner Bud Selig's office before taking his current post two years ago, made clear that he would back Selig should the sport pursue a cap in its next labor negotiations in 2011.
"Having studied the issue for years while working at the commissioner's office, I continue to believe a salary cap is an economic system that works for a sports league as a whole, the individual clubs and, because of the growth it can promote for the league, the players," Coonelly said in an interview Friday. "As a result, yes, the Pirates would support an effort by the commissioner's office to secure a salary cap in collective bargaining."
Coonelly would not project whether such an attempt would be successful, though. Or even if it will be a goal. Baseball is the only one of the four major professional sports without a cap, and there are two dominant reasons: One, the owners never have united behind the cause. Two, the players' union, led by Donald Fehr, is powerful and vehemently opposed to salary restriction of any kind.
"Baseball's history in attempting to negotiate a cap is well known and, thus, I don't think it's productive to place odds on whether the commissioner's office will attempt to secure a cap in 2011 or beyond," Coonelly said. "While we would support such an effort, we will leave that decision to commissioner, and we will spend all our time and energy working to build an organization that will win championships under the current system."
In the past month, spurred partly by the economic crisis but largely by the New York Yankees' manic spending this offseason that included nine-figure commitments to Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, two team owners issued rare calls for a cap: The Milwaukee Brewers' Mark Attanasio was first in suggesting that baseball "may need to impose a salary cap to preserve competition." The Houston Astros' Drayton McLane followed with, "We would love to have a salary cap, but the union has been very resistant to that."
Coonelly stressed that, while the Pirates support a cap, they have no intention of blaming the current system for whatever ails them.
"As I have said repeatedly, I firmly believe the Pirates can compete and win under the current system," he said. "The combination of revenue sharing, the competitive-balance tax and the debt-service rule gives us the wherewithal to field teams that compete for championships. Certainly, we cannot afford to make mistakes that a team like the Yankees can afford to make, we cannot afford to commit $180 million to any one player, and we need to work harder and make smarter decisions than clubs with larger revenue streams. But all of this is a challenge that we relish. Nothing that has occurred this off-season has changed the competitive landscape or shaken our view that we can compete on that landscape."
Coonelly was asked how he felt about sharing a city in which the other two franchises tangibly benefit from -- and succeed within -- cap systems.
"I applaud the success of the Steelers and the Penguins," he replied. "I have been very impressed with the organizations they have built and their ability to make the difficult decisions necessary to sustain success. All NFL and NHL clubs operate under a cap system and, yet, most have not have the sustained success of the Steelers and the Penguins. The Steelers and Penguins have been successful because they have committed to winning plans, not because they operate in leagues that have salary caps."
Coonelly expressed hope that his franchise can buck its system.
"We are working extremely hard to return the Pirates to a championship organization because our fans deserve a team of which they can be proud. When we win under baseball's current economic system, our fans may have an even heightened level of pride in this Pittsburgh success story."
• The 11-day period for eligible players to file for salary arbitration begins tomorrow. All of the Pirates' players in that category -- center fielder Nate McLouth, first baseman Adam LaRoche and pitchers Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, John Grabow and Tyler Yates -- will file, as is universally the case.
• There has been no move to reignite talks aimed at a multiyear contract for McLouth, and none is expected. But it should not be ruled out, despite Coonelly's public pessimism last week, that the Maholm matter is not yet finished.
• Management heads into the spring with the stance that only Maholm has a job in the rotation. But be sure that Ian Snell, Ross Ohlendorf and Duke have a leg up. That would leave one spot for Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Karstens or Phil Dumatrait. But that is for now. Much could change with spring performance and health.
• Robinzon Diaz, who will duel Jason Jaramillo to be backup catcher, finished a dismal Dominican winter with a .202 average, two extra-base hits and four RBIs in 99 at-bats.
• Only 40 days until pitchers and catchers report.