Pirates' GM, manager under contract through 2011
It has not been easy for President Frank Coonelly to watch the Pirates lurch toward what almost certainly will be their 18th straight losing season.
"The level of disappointment is so high I can't accurately give you a word for it," Coonelly said Thursday. "I'm extraordinarily disappointed and frustrated. We knew we had challenges this year, but we were excited to attack them. We do believe we can turn it around."
The Pirates lugged a 10-game losing streak into last night's game against the Chicago White Sox. They were 19 games under .500, with eight fewer wins than at the same point a year ago.
Yet, neither of Coonelly's top two point men — general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell — is in imminent danger of losing his job.
Thursday afternoon, Coonelly confirmed that the team has picked up the option on Russell's contract and extended Huntington's deal by one year. The manager and GM are signed through the 2011 season.
"We made the decisions understanding this turnaround is not something anyone believed we could do quickly," Coonelly said.
The decision to extend both contracts was made in October but was not made public. Coonelly finally revealed it yesterday, after continued prodding by local and national media.
Coonelly believes silence is the best approach when it comes to the contract status for management.
"The better policy is direct communication with the employees, making sure they understand the goals and the standards by which their performance is measured," Coonelly said.
Huntington and Russell will be re-evaluated at season's end, as usual, and could be dismissed if found lacking.
"Whether we have a one-year extension or a 10-year extension, we're not going to change the way we do things," Russell said. "We're going to be held accountable to make sure we go in the right direction."
Added Huntington: "What makes stability is results on the field."
The dramatic roster overhaul of the past two seasons is considered when Russell is evaluated, just as the team's low payroll constraints are factored into Huntington's assessment.
"Yeah, you take into account all of that," Coonelly said. "But you don't use the payroll as an excuse. The Padres have a payroll that's lower than ours, and they've managed to be competitive all season."
At this stage — with rookies Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez filling key roles — Russell is judged mostly on his ability to teach, lead and motivate.
Huntington has drastically reshaped the major-league roster and farm system through a flurry of trades, minor free-agent signings and waiver claims.
"Not all of them have worked out as we'd hoped," Coonelly admitted.
Second baseman Aki Iwamura arrived in November via a trade. Wednesday, he was designated for assignment when Alvarez was called up from Triple-A.
Cutting Iwamura will force the Pirates to swallow his $4.85 million contract. The Pirates took a $2 million hit in April when Ramon Vazquez was released.
Nearly $7 million in mistakes is no big deal for some clubs. But it's a significant blow for the Pirates, whose Opening Day payroll was just $34.9 million.
Coonelly pointed out Huntington's successes, such as netting Evan Meek in the Rule 5 draft and signing Jones as a minor-league free agent. Huntington also pulled the trigger on Alvarez's callup.
"The call on that was not from me," Coonelly said. "It did not come from above. I certainly was interested in it, and I can tell you (Russell) was urging it for a while."
How well — and how quickly — Alvarez and the other newbies develop in the majors will go far in determining the futures of Huntington and Russell.
"When we talk about performance, we don't always talk solely about wins and losses," Coonelly said. "But there is a time when this club must perform as measured in wins and losses."
Coonelly did not indicate when, exactly, that time will come.
Pirates' managers and general managers since the team last won the World Series in 1979:
Manager, No. seasons Years, W-L, Pct.
Chuck Tanner, 9, 1977-85, 711-685, .509
Jim Leyland, 11, 1986-96, 851-863, .496
Gene Lamont, 4, 1997-2000, 295-352, .456
Lloyd McClendon, 5, 2001-05, 336-446, .430
Pete Mackanin, 1, 2005, 12-14, .462
Jim Tracy, 2, 2006-07, 135-189, .417
John Russell, 3, 2008-present, 152-236, .392
Harding Peterson, 1979-85
Syd Thrift, 1985-88
Larry Doughty, 1988-92
Ted Simmons, 1992-93
Cam Bonifay, 1993-2001
Dave Littlefield, 2001-07
Neal Huntington, 2007-present