Sunday, September 09, 2007

Thinking about Coonelly

I've been reading about Frank Coonelly a lot over the past day or so. I've been trying to figure out who he is, what he does for Major League Baseball, and what that means for the future of the Pirates. Of course, my resources are a bit limited at the present- if you google him one of the first hits that comes up is the FanHouse post I did about him this afternoon.

The first thing I did after reading the requisite links on the first Google page (the only one I haven't linked yet that you should check out if you haven't is a Tim Marchman article in the New York Sun that he allowed Bronx Banter to reprint on their blog) was type his name into the search engine on Basically I just wanted to read a bio and see what this guy looked like (because yes, I'm shallow and like to judge people by looks). I found neither (though there are some pics of him here and here if you're interested). In fact, there's only one hit on all of for Coonelly and it was an article that detailed one of Jason Giambi's many meetings with MLB officials this season (emphasis mine, of course):

Published reports said that Giambi was accompanied to his meeting at 245 Park Avenue in Manhattan by his agent, Arn Tellem, along with lawyer Brian O'Neill and Michael Weiner, a top lawyer for the MLB Players Association. Major League Baseball was represented by Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations; Frank Coonelly, a senior vice president; and Howard Ganz, an outside counsel.
Seems like interesting company for him to be mixed in with, though it's mainly just a lot of lawyers (which is what Coonelly is, based on his position as labor relations counsel).

I filed that one away, possibly for future reference, and kept on reading. I moved on to the Baseball Primer thread about the move, because, as I'm sure a lot of you know, there's a ton of smart baseball people there that look at things in different ways. So, from what I can tell, Coonelly's position with baseball dealt mostly arbitration hearings, trying to keep the teams to comply with what the league wants to see in draft bonus money (the much ballyhooed "slot money) and free agent contracts. His name and the word "collusion" get tossed around in conjunction a lot. Knowing what Bud Selig thinks about those things, clearly, this is a scary prospect for Pirate fans.

Still, I'm not going to immediately rip this hire and that's for a couple reasons. One is because of something Keith Law wrote in the Primer thread that I was thinking even before I read it:
Coonelly was doing his job by working to improve compliance with MLB recommendations. I don't know why everyone is assuming that that was his personal philosophy, or that he would continue to follow Bud Selig's policies rather than whatever policies his owner wants him to follow.
Clearly, he'll be doing his job in Pittsburgh by doing whatever Nutting asks him to do, but just because he enforces the slot money for Selig doesn't mean he'll adhere to it when he leaves his post with baseball.

Secondly, how could it possibly hurt the Pirates to have a guy that knows the ins and outs of the baseball labor scene running the team? Remember that the PG reported earlier in the summer that the Pirates had more grievances filed against them than any other MLB team. If you didn't read Dejan's analysis of the DL era, this was one quote that stood out to me:
One agent said yesterday, "You never had the feeling that Dave cared about the players, and people in our business knew that. I'm glad to have his number out of my Rolodex."
Now you'll tell me that Coonelly was the one that had DL's back in all of those grievances, but again, that's because it was his job. Someone has to defend the guilty, too. At the very least, Coonelly knows the system inside and out and will keep messy situations like the Salomon Torres saga from taking place and that's a very good thing for the Pirates.

Finally, even if he is a guy that will sit on salaries the way Bud Selig wants them sat on, I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing. Remember, the Pirates' aren't bad because they're cheap. They're bad because under Littlefield and McClatchy, they spent the little money that they did have poorly. They traded Aramis Ramirez and draft poorly because of financial restraints, but they spent $10 million on Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa one winter, then traded for Matt Morris and his ginormous contract at the next season's trade deadline.

So what's the bottom line right now? Well, we wanted a baseball guy and we certainly got one. I thought it was strange to see so many GM-type names (Duquette, Garagiola, LaCava) being tossed around in conjunction with the CEO/President position, and Coonelly is clearly not in their mold at all. Every thing I read about him indicates that he's a very, very bright guy and he's got intricate knowledge of the things that you want your CEO to have intricate knowledge of if he's running the baseball operations. Still, I think it's a mistake to give anyone a free pass just because they're not Kevin McClatchy. The potential for this to be a move that just perpetuates the mentality that we're so used to and tired of certainly exists. Early indications are that the Pirates' GM job is a job that a lot of good baseball people would want and thusly, the first proving ground for Coonelly will be who he hires to fill Littlefield's position. Until the cogs in the machine start moving, all we can really do is speculate.