Dear Pirates fans,
As Spring Training gets under way, I wanted to take a moment to personally thank you for your support, as well as update you on the progress we have made in implementing our vision of building a sustainable championship-caliber organization.
While some have questioned the level of our player personnel activity this offseason, I want to assure you that we have hit the ground running and have worked very hard to restore the pride and passion of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Indeed, the Pirates are a fundamentally different organization today than at this time last year. Beginning with Bob Nutting assuming control of the ballclub a little more than a year ago, this organization has taken orderly steps to improve our internal operations and build a ballclub of which you can justifiably be proud.
Shortly after my appointment as general manager, I worked with president Frank Coonelly on an in-depth assessment of our baseball-operations department. We decided to change the leadership of each of the three major areas -- Major League manager/coaching staff, scouting and player development. We then worked extremely hard to identify and hire the talented baseball men who now form a strong, cohesive leadership team.
The key difference in this leadership team, and what will make us successful, is the how. As an organization, we are taking a process-oriented, systematic approach to everything we do at every level of our operation.
We have completely revised our system for evaluating players and are now using the same system to evaluate talent at every level of baseball, including the amateurs we scout and the Minor League and Major League players in our system as well as other organizations. We have added to the number and quality of our amateur scouts to allow them to focus more intensely on a smaller geographic area and to permit the organization to get multiple looks at a large majority of the amateur players we scout while enhancing the professional growth of each of our evaluators. We are also increasing our level of international scouting and development, including the significant financial investment we are making in the new Pirates training complex we are building in the Dominican Republic.
We are also implementing an individualized written development plan for each player throughout our system. To execute these development plans, we have retained and hired some of the top talent in baseball. These talented instructors will work throughout our system teaching our young players how to play "Pirates Baseball" from the entry level through the Major Leagues.
On the Major League side, we simply cannot and will not repeat the same mistakes this organization has made in the past by making trades and/or free-agent signings simply for the sake of making moves. We chose not to trade players at their lowest value or to trade away our talented, young players just for the sake of making changes.
We are also not going to overspend on a marginal free agent just to secure a favorable story in January. Unfortunately, this organization has proven many times in the past that the short-term bump in excitement over an expensive free-agent signing is far outweighed by the long-term negative impact on the club's ability to allocate these resources to build a strong and deep core. Everything we do will be well thought out, rational and for the benefit of improving the club's on-field performance. We have the necessary resources to make sound baseball decisions as we build this Major League team for the present and future.
I am eager to see how our young players will respond to the leadership and direction of our new manager John Russell and his staff. John has instilled a sense of discipline and accountability in the clubhouse. He will foster an open line of communication so our players know exactly what is expected of them both on and off the field.
Our optimism about the 2008 club begins with our young starting rotation, which some believe could be the deepest starting rotation in our division. Ian Snell had a second consecutive strong season in 2007, and is poised to become a consistent winner in '08. Tom Gorzelanny emerged as one of the top young starters in the National League in 2007, and is poised for a quality 2008. Paul Maholm has demonstrated his toughness and durability; we think that he can become a more consistent winner as he enters his third full season. The veteran presence of Matt Morris for the entire year should be a stabilizing force for the entire rotation. Zach Duke has worked hard this offseason, and we feel he is on the verge of re-establishing himself as a solid Major League pitcher.
Concern has been raised about the depth of our bullpen, but we are fortunate to have a bullpen anchored by one of the best young closers in the game in Matt Capps and left-handed setup men Damaso Marte and John Grabow. We declined this offseason to allocate valuable resources to multiyear contracts for free-agent middle relievers. Clubs that have built bullpens with such signings have been almost universally disappointed with the results and were hamstrung by unproductive long-term commitments. Instead, we are building our bullpen through a variety of options that will give John a number of different looks, power levels and experience that will allow him to match our pitchers' strengths to a lineup's weakness.
Around the diamond we should be strong up the middle with Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Nate McLouth or Nyjer Morgan. On the corners, we are looking forward to healthy and productive seasons from Jason Bay and Xavier Nady and continued development from Adam LaRoche and Jose Bautista. Our bench will be anchored by versatile veteran Chris Gomez, and we will have solid, versatile Major League-caliber options for our manager to use as he deems necessary. Additionally we look forward to the continued development of exciting young players like Steve Pearce, Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Brian Bixler and others.
This community was excited about this team last year, and we believe that this club will be better than it performed in 2007. Our focus is putting a club on the field that will respect the game, play the right way and give itself a chance to win each night.
In closing, I want to personally thank you for your continued support of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Your loyalty and support is very much appreciated. I look forward to seeing you at PNC Park for what I believe will be an exciting 2008 season.
Senior Vice President, General Manager