Pirates extend Russell's contract through 2010
General manager Neal Huntington, left, and manager John Russell watch yesterday's workout at Pirate City. Pirates management picked up Russell's option for 2010 earlier in the day.
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- No, John Russell didn't refuse to take the Pirate City fields yesterday morning until management exercised the first of his two contract options, for the 2010 season.
After all, why hold out for one when there's also an option for 2011 available?
This Pirates manager, after a 67-victory rookie year when Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte were ripped from a lineup again reshaped for the future, is a man this administration wants around another two seasons, at least. So, yesterday his bosses triggered the first option of his 2007 deal to keep him on the job this season and next.
"It wasn't really a matter of timing," said general manager Neal Huntington, who pitched the idea to president Frank Coonelly and owner Bob Nutting. "It was kind of a formality in my mind. It was something that ... actually we had talked about internally for a long time and made it formal today."
If not the timing, the time frame seemed important. Both Russell and Huntington now are joined at the contractual hip. Russell signed a two-year contract Nov. 5, 2007, with what was believed initially to be one option year, for a $1.6 million total. His GM started work there 41 days earlier via a three-year deal, through the 2010 season.
"We decided, after evaluating what J.R. has accomplished in a short period of time and the respect that he has built in the clubhouse, that exercising the option now was the right call," Coonelly, at PNC Park for the club's On-Sale event, said via e-mail. "J.R. has changed the culture in the clubhouse. He is disciplined but fair. He is fiercely passionate yet controlled under pressure. ... We wanted J.R. to know that we appreciated the changes that he has made in terms of the intensity and passion of our play and the emphasis on fundamentally sound baseball, and that we have confidence in his ability to win with the talent that Neal is adding to our system."
Russell spoke of how he sees -- and by extension his bosses as well -- signs of improvement already in a club that last year tied for the distinction of the longest losing skid in American pro-sports annals (16 consecutive seasons).
"Things are headed definitely where we want them to go," Russell said after a three-hour workout yesterday. "The hard work is starting to pay off. We've seen the commitment from the front office where we're going" in signing Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm and, last week, Nate McLouth to long-term contracts.
"I didn't push," he added of the extension. "I appreciate being a part of it and the faith Neal has in me and what we are doing as a group. I truly believe that if I do what I'm supposed to do, and Neal and I continue to work together, we're going to have a very long relationship in Pittsburgh and there are going to be some great things happen."
Russell's first major league team started out 50-58. Then, with Bay traded to Boston and Nady plus Marte to the New York Yankees, five of the eight acquisitions were grafted onto a roster containing precious few players older than 26. The club careened to a 17-37 finish.
"You can ask anyone, guys definitely like playing for him," said shortstop Jack Wilson, 31, the longest-tenured Pirate now on his third manager.
"He was a player. He knows what guys are like. The short time I was here, as far as playing time on the field [87 games in an injury-riddled 2008], he's definitely a pleasure to play for. He'll never have a problem with you as long as you go out and do what you're supposed to do.
"I've been through two -- actually, more than two -- changes now. Not only managers, but coaches, too. Having to adjust to a new infield coach, to a new outfield coach. ...
"That's pretty cool."
First Published February 22, 2009 12:00 am