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Coonelly: Pirates are ready to spend again

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, June 5, 2011

Team president Frank Coonelly said bonus money will not be a factor when the Pirates decide how to use the first overall pick Monday in the MLB draft. But he also believes the industry as a whole could dole out smaller bonuses than a year ago.

"We're going to take the player who we think will have the most impact on the Pirates," Coonelly said Saturday. "We're going to take the player we want, and then we'll negotiate a contract. We're confident that, like in the past three years, we'll be able to negotiate a contract that works for both sides."

This is the first time since 2002 that the Pirates have the top pick. Last year, they signed pitcher Jameson Taillon, the second selection, to a $6.5 million bonus.

In the past three years, the Pirates have spent almost $31 million on the draft, more than any other club. In 2010, they spent $11.9 million, the second-most in the majors, to sign 27 draftees.

Coonelly said the Pirates are prepared to make a similar financial outlay this year. But the threat of a hard slotting system, which locks a player into a predetermined bonus depending on where he's drafted — and which Coonelly seems confident will be implemented in 2011 — means they might not have to.

"I think there are more reasons why the industry will spend less," Coonelly said. "You can never predict the outcome of collective bargaining, but given that this could be the last year of the draft without slotting, it seems it would be an incentive for players to sign contracts this year, rather than be thrown into uncertainty the following year."

The collective bargaining agreement expires after this season. Currently, MLB has "suggested" slot amounts but no way to enforce them. The Pirates have gone over slot two of the past three drafts to sign Taillon and third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who got $6 million as the second pick in 2008.

Going back East?

Coonelly sounded optimistic that CBA negotiations could spark realignment and move the Pirates back to the NL East.

"I know they've talked about it in connection with the collective bargaining negotiations," Coonelly said. "I wouldn't predict that it's going to happen soon, but I think there are some structural issues that should be addressed."

The Pirates were shifted from the NL East to the Central in 1994. For several reasons — geography, rivalry and attendance — Coonelly is eager to have more home series against Philadelphia and New York. This weekend's three-game set against the Phillies will draw more than 100,000 fans.

"I'd like to see us back in the East," Coonelly said. "I think that's where we belong."

Lineup moves

Manager Clint Hurdle said Ronny Cedeno will get a day off Sunday. Brandon Wood will start at shortstop instead of Pedro Ciriaco, who has made just two appearances (one as a pinch runner) since being recalled May 21.

Hurdle said second baseman Neil Walker will be rested Tuesday against Arizona. It will be Walker's second off day this season and the first time he'll be a healthy scratch.

Making changes

After losing two starts in a row, Jeff Karstens made what he said were a few, minor mechanical adjustments on the mound. He tried them out Friday and tossed a gem against the Phillies — seven innings, one run, four hits.

Understandably, Karstens didn't want to divulge too much about what he changed.

"It's nothing too crazy," he said. "It was just trying to help me (so that), when I miss, I miss off the plate instead of over the plate. I wanted to keep the ball down and keep it in the park."

Buyer or seller?

After the draft, much of the talk around baseball will focus on the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Teams have inquired about closer Joel Hanrahan, and relievers Evan Meek and Jose Veras could draw interest. Left-hander Paul Maholm and catcher Ryan Doumit (who's on the disabled list) have big-money contract options for 2012 that made them trade fodder this year.

Will the Pirates be buyers or sellers?

"Too early to say," Coonelly said. "If we're in the hunt and the club has needs, we have the financial flexibility to look for pieces to help the club win this year."

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