MLB Insiders - Pittsburgh Pirates

John Russell might have a record 28 games under .500 after just one season as a major league manager, but that did not keep the Pirates from picking up his option for 2010 before the exhibition season began.

"In my mind, it was just a mere formality," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He's really been everything we could have hoped for and more since we hired him."

The Pirates were 67-95 last season in Russell's first full season. However, they were a respectable 50-57 at the end of the July before the trades of outfielders Jason Bay and Xavier Nady all but rendered the offense impotent and led to a 17-37 record over the final third of the season.

"His leadership, knowledge, attention to detail, ability to see the big picture and passion for things being done the right way made him the ideal choice as our manager a year ago and made the decision to pick up his option for 2010 an easy decision," Huntington said.

One of the criticisms of Russell by fans is that he is too passive. He keeps his emotions in check, proven by the fact that he was ejected only once last season.

However, the even-keeled approach has helped endear Russell to his bosses.

"There seems to be just two schools of thought now when it comes to hiring a manager, either the even-keel manager or the fiery-type manager," Huntington said. "While fiery does work in some situations, we wanted someone who was even-keeled. I think it's hard to ask your players to keep their emotions under control if the manager is up and down emotionally.

"While John may be even-keeled, it does not disguise the fact he gets his message across and is in control of the team. He doesn't blow people up or show them up, but he gets his points across and the players in the clubhouse really respect him for that."

Russell, in his understated way, was pleased the Pirates want him around for a third season even though he is just now embarking on his second year.

"I really believe we have the right people here and the right approach," Russell said. "I want to be a part of it for a long time. I truly believe in the direction Neal is taking, and I'm happy he wants me here."

--INF/OF Doug Mientkiewicz signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers, turning down a similar offer to remain with the Pirates. Mientkiewicz, 34, hit .277 with two home runs and 30 RBIs in 125 games for Pittsburgh last season while playing the corner infield and outfield positions. However, his chances of making the Opening Day roster this year would have been slim after the Pirates signed a similar player, INF/OF Eric Hinske, as a free agent.

--INF/OF Eric Hinske suffered a bruised left ribcage when he crashed into the outfield wall while trying to catch a fly ball in the exhibition opener against Philadelphia on Feb. 25. The injury was not expected to keep him out of action long.

--INF Luis Cruz was sidelined at the start of the exhibition season by a strained left hip flexor. However, the rookie was expected to return to action in plenty of time to try to win the second utility infielder's spot behind INF Ramon Vazquez.

--LHP Dave Davidson, RHP Ian Snell and INF Ramon Vazquez will all leave left camp March 1 in order to participate in the World Baseball Classic. Davidson will play for Canada, while Snell and Vazquez are on Puerto Rico's roster. Bullpen coach Luis Dorante will serve on Venezuela's staff.

--INF Andy Phillips, in camp as a non-roster player, said he expects to cleared of any wrongdoing after a police report was filed against him in late December by adult film actress Demi Delia in New York. Delia claimed Phillips impersonated Cleveland RHP Carl Pavano and Philadelphia INF Greg Dobbs in e-mails while setting up a romantic tryst. Phillips said he does not know Delia and that investigators from Major League Baseball have determined that someone was impersonating him.

BY THE NUMBERS: 50 -- Seasons broadcaster Steve Blass has been in the Pirates' organization. He signed his first professional contract in 1960 and pitched in the major leagues with them from 1964-74 before working in community relations and eventually joining the broadcast team.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "They have a solid plan in place now, emulating some of the other small-market franchises that have been successful, and that's something that wasn't always the case when I was there. It's going to take some time before it comes together, but I really think they'll turn the corner in the next couple of years." -- Boston LF Jason Bay on if he thinks the Pirates, the team he played for from 2003-08, will snap their streak of 16 consecutive losing season anytime soon

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