Kudos to Huntington/Coonelly; Frazier hired?

I haven’t praised this new front office team much since they took over but today I’m going to.

Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly deserve a lot of credit for something that’s been going on behind the scenes the last couple of weeks most fans would have never heard about, but I think it’s an important story to tell for a couple of reasons.

One, the person involved needs to know, not only do clubs want him, but the fans do too. And two, the extreme measures the Pirates took attempting to hire one of the best in the game.

Let me explain.

After Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly decided to part ways with Jim Tracy and his staff, Huntington put together his short-list of replacements and presented it to Coonelly. One of the men on that list was a man by the name of Perry Hill.

There are few coaches and managers in the game who are known in the industry as "difference makers" – guys who can single-handedly turn around one aspect of a club through their work. Hill is such a man working with infielders.

Hill had retired with the Marlins in March 2007 because he needed to be with his wife and family. At that point he was in the second year of a four-year contract that extended through 2009.

Since he had retired under contract, the Pirates had to negotiate with the Marlins not only to be able to interview him, but if Hill accepted the position, the Pirates would have had to compensate the Marlins for Hill’s loss.

That’s where this story begins.

Huntington and Coonelly reached an agreement with the Marlins to be able to interview Hill and Hill had tentatively accepted the Pirates offer last week. After Hill agreed, the Pirates then worked out a compensation package to the Marlins thought to be one player.. the name is unknown at this time.

At this point Coonelly and Huntington were jumping up and down in the offices at PNC thinking they had secured one of the best instructors in the game. However, as the week went by, and before signing a contract, Hill called back and told the Pirates he had changed his mind – he still needed to be with his family and he had to put them first in his life.

But Huntington and Coonelly didn’t give up. They methodically worked with Hill to see if there wasn’t some way possible to satisfy his family’s needs so he could return to the game and Hill and his family thought about it. After the Thanksgiving weekend, Hill had made his final decision.. he wouldn’t return in 2008, but 2009 might be an option.

Now folks, clubs don’t go to this extent when they target a hire – they typically make an offer and then receive an answer and that’s it. But Huntington and Coonelly went overboard to try and assist Hill’s family to make them comfortable. They deserve a pat on the back for their work.

As for Hill, I think his family needs to know that "Bone" (Hill’s nickname) is not just a club desired commodity, not just a player desired commodity, but a hot commodity with the fans too. He’s as much a part of the game of baseball as Babe Ruth is, although in a different way. We miss him too and we hope he and his family can come together and find a way for him to come back to the game, and with the Pirates when he does.

FrazierThat being said, word on the street is the Pirates have settled on Red Sox minor league outfield and baserunning rover Lou Frazier as their first base coach.

Frazier played pro ball for 12 years and has coached since starting with the Indians in 2000 until joining the Red Sox as a rover in 2004. John Russell and Frazier coached the Phoenix AFL team in 2002 together.

Frazier might best be remembered by Pirates fans as the Expos player who said "Pedro doesn’t throw at batters" after Jimmy Leyland’s 1994 team, which included Gary Varsho, brawled with the Expos in Montreal on June 14th and six players were ejected. Many years later, of course, Pedro knocked Don Zimmer to the ground.

That June 14th was one day after the Pirates were no-hit for 8.2 innings by the Expos until Carlos Garcia singled and Jay Bell homered. BTW, June 14th was historical in another way.. the player’s union rejected a salary cap proposal which would have allowed the players to split revenues with the clubs 50/50. Ouch.

Anyway, look for Frazier to work with the outfielders and coach, and look for Tony Beasley work with the infielders and coach third.

Since I built Perry Hill up so much I don’t want to take away anything from Frazier – he’s a quality instructor who will immediately have an effect on Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth, Andrew McCutchen some in the spring, Steve Pearce, Xavier Nady and even Jason Bay.

And no disrespect to Frazier, but this fan hopes Frazier is hired with the understanding that if Hill is obtained for 2009, he moves to another role with the organization and Hill is told Frazier knows that. But I’d bet even Frazier would be tickled to do that.

Again, kudos to Coonelly and Huntington for a job well done.

How about Jack Bowen being demoted from special assistant to national crosschecker? Word on the street is that Huntington has been discussing this with Bowen for some time and, while it’s a demotion on paper, Bowen is very happy about the move to get back in the field looking at young talent which he is very good at.

I suppose the better question might be, was Bowen even considered to be the Pirates scouting director? Hmm..

Everyone heads to Nashville Sunday for the start of the winter meetings Monday. About the only player I expect to see Huntington step up and deal is Jason Bay, although I’m sure he’ll listen to anything.

Bucco Blog will have a few ears tuned in at the hotel too so keep the dial here.

What an outstanding trade the Rays and Twins put together – Garza for Young. I mentioned here that the Twins and Bucs had talked some (turned out it was a three-team deal) but evidently that was axed somewhere along the line and the Twins moved in another direction.

The Twins are dealing two good arms in order to improve their offense and it’s the type of dealing the Pirates need to consider with Gorzelanny and Snell.

Fabulous stuff.. what success cycles are all about. Oh, and new ballparks for their respective communities too. hehe

After giving kudos to Huntington, I read this tidbit in an article at Pirateball.com:

"As a result, rather than find a temporary veteran fix for 2008, Huntington is more interested in evaluating the players who are already in the system and seeing how they may fit into the equation for next season and beyond.

"For example, we want to know if Jose Bautista is just starting to get going and can establish himself at third," Huntington said, explaining this mentality. "We want to see if Ronny Paulino can become the hitter that he was in 2006. We have some exciting guys in [Nyjer] Morgan and [Steve] Pearce that we want to get playing time. We have players that we want to see."

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the Pirates hire a president September 13th who represented Major League Baseball in evaluating player values? Didn’t Bautista play the last six games at home at third? And, didn’t we just hire a GM said to be an outstanding evaluator of talent? And didn’t that same GM just keep on all of Dave Littlefield’s special assistants?

Perhaps they don’t mean the Jose Bautista who can’t even reach a batting average of .300 on balls he puts in play, or was -16 runs FRAA last year (fielding runs above average for the position), or had a .270 EqA? Geezz.. Bautista needs more playing time at third about as much as he needs more innings in center.

But more worrisome about the article’s tone was that it suggests the Pirates want to evaluate talent again in 2008.

That’s sad, if true. Really sad.