No extension yet for GM


BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates president Frank Coonelly is evaluating the status of general manager Neal Huntington, but so far has not offered a contract extension.

“He is under contract for this season and it’s our expectation that Neal will be here for a long time,” Coonelly said this morning. “He has hot been extended at this point. We’ll continue to evaluate it as we move forward.”

Neal Huntington's contract is up after the 2011 season
Neal Huntington's contract is up after the 2011 season

Huntington was hired in September 2007, shortly after Coonelly joined the front office. Huntington was given a one-year extension in October 2009, but Coonelly did not make that public until eight months later.

Former manager John Russell also was given a one-year extension in October 2009. Russell was fired one day after the 2010 season.

During Huntington’s tenure, the Pirates have gone 67-95 in 2008, 62-99 in 2009 and 57-105 last year. In that span, Huntington has been busy trying to restock the farm system, which was depleted of talent in the mid-2000s.

“I’m never satisfied, but I’m certainly pleased that we’re moving quickly in the right direction,” Coonelly said. “In fact (coach) Brad Fisher, who was here when we started three years ago and is now back after being in Milwaukee for a couple years, commented to me yesterday that the talent level he sees out here is far higher than it was two years ago. We’re getting there. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re seeing players matriculate through the system and obviously many of those players are having success in the minor league system. As they develop that winning attitude and work their way up, they’ll be here in Pittsburgh with a winning attitude.”

»»» Manager Clint Hurdle spoke during a team meeting this morning in the cafeteria at Pirates City. The players then began their first official full-squad workout. Coonelly also was at the meeting, but did not address the players. Owner Bob Nutting will not visit camp until next week.

»»» What are Coonelly’s expectations for this season? “I expect to see us compete,” he said. “We’re all about doing. As Clint said to the guys, trying hard isn’t good enough. This is a doing league and it’s time for us to start doing.”

Coonelly did not want to predict a win-loss total — “I’ve gotten in trouble for that before,” he said with a laugh — but he said he expects to see “a significant improvement” over last year’s 57-105 mark. “The expectations for the club had better be championship expectations, championship mentality, championship execution. I’m confident we’re going to be far better than we’ve been the last several years.”

The collective payroll for the 40-man roster looks to be at least $45 million this year. Coonelly said resources remain if the Pirates perform well and need to add a player midway through the season. “Absolutely,” Coonelly said. “We’ve said all along that we’re looking forward to the day that we need to make that decision, and we’re prepared to make it. We’re prepared to add players if we need guys to get us over the hump.”

»»» Hurdle, Coonelly and several players are slated to attend a pep rally for the Pirates tonight on Old Main Street in downtown Bradenton.