Coonelly: Time for Pirates to build on success
Club president discusses team's future, upcoming season in Q&A with MLB.com
MLB.com: If you were the president, taking the podium, how would your opening remarks go?
Frank Coonelly: I'm really excited to get the 2014 season going. I couldn't be more excited about where this organization is and where we can go. We broke through some barriers in 2013 and are looking forward to competing for the ultimate prize.
The entire organization had a bad taste in its mouth leaving St. Louis [following the loss in Game 5 of the National League Division Series]. We have a strong feeling of having unfinished business to take care of. And now is the time to take care of that unfinished business.
We feel good about where we are, with a young core moving into its prime. They learned some tough lessons the last three years, and that additional seasoning will be critical, as we try to get to the next level. As fun as 2013 was, we did not accomplish our objective -- to put up a sixth World Series championship banner at PNC Park. We intend on doing everything we can to accomplish that goal, which is now within our reach.
MLB.com: Like the president, you would have your dissenters. Not across party lines -- but across the bottom line.
Coonelly: We are not in the battle to win the highest payroll, but to win a World Series championship. Those are two different things. Our plan always is to be a championship-caliber team, built through the Draft.
MLB.com: There will always be critics. But did the level of criticism -- for the offseason inactivity -- surprise you?
Coonelly: No. But I know our fans are also excited for the 2014 season. We have that core of players in their prime, and in the opinion of many, including respected outsiders, a very solid farm system that we have worked very hard to build. Those young players are prepared to take the next steps to the Major League club, and can have a major impact.
MLB.com: Building up the farm system was the stated mission from the very beginning of your "administration," Mr. President. To now be recognized for having one of the top farm systems, an elite player-development program -- how satisfying is that?
Coonelly: In a way, it's nice to see other respected voices in the industry come out and rank our system high. There were some tough decisions that [general manager] Neal Huntington and his team have had to make the last several years as we approached the Trade Deadline and the team was competitive and there was a lot of pressure on them to do whatever it took to get us over the top. When Neal and his men were involved in those discussions, the players that were sought by the other teams are the same ones who are making an impact now and make us one of the top farm systems -- the Gerrit Cole's, Jameson Taillon's, Gregory Polanco's.
Those were the names other clubs were interested in. So we had some tough decisions to make, but ultimately we decided those types of deals we were not going to make -- as tempting as they were. Now I am excited to ultimately see those players at PNC Park. I couldn't give our player development staff any more credit for developing these young men into players who'll come to Pittsburgh prepared to play championship baseball the Pirates way.
MLB.com: How do you feel at the dawn of another season having to deal with something you perhaps had not had to before: high -- definitely higher -- expectations?
Coonelly: It's absolutely a responsibility I welcome. For us, though, it's no different. We have had those high expectations from the outset. We welcome them. If you have any expectations lower than a championship-caliber team, you're not in the right business. Our fans have a right to expect a championship team. We welcome it. We're ready for the fire.
MLB.com: You had your own high expectations, at the box office, as it relates to season-ticket sales. Are your expectations being met?
Coonelly: We did set a high forecast for what we expected in the offseason, and we are in the process of exceeding those high expectations. The reaction from our fans to the success we had last year has been even greater than expected. There is a tremendous amount of excitement.
MLB.com: That ties in to another of your stated goals, does it not?
Coonelly: Yes, I have publicly said that we need to break the franchise's all-time attendance record, and we're well on our way to doing that. No question, just as in that Wild Card Game against Cincinnati, the Pittsburgh Pirates fans have again shown up for us.
Now it's incumbent on us to show up for them.
MLB.com: Does any flag come with a Wild Card berth? Will you get to raise anything on Opening Day -- besides a Jolly Roger?
Coonelly: We did receive a nice plaque from the league office for winning the Wild Card Game, but no flag. But we will be raising the Jolly Roger in a very special way -- definitely something to look forward to.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.