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Baseball notes

In an overhaul, Cubs should try to put Sox on

TOM RICKETTS Changes in store? TOM RICKETTS
Changes in store?
By Nick Cafardo
June 12, 2011

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Cubs owner Tom Ricketts could solve the franchise’s 103-year-old problem — and some modern ones — if he heeds this advice: hire as many Red Sox people as possible to run the organization.

He already has former Red Sox public relations guru Peter Chase in place, but he could consider Allard Baird or Ben Cherington as general manager, and Sam Kennedy or Jeremy Kapstein in a president/CEO role. He could hire DeMarlo Hale as manager.

Do all this, and the Cubs may well go from lovable losers to winners.

For sure, this is not an easy fix for Ricketts. For one thing, he already has one of the more respected GMs in the game in Jim Hendry, who has won three divisional titles. Hendry, however, did not have a run of good contracts from Alfonso Soriano to Carlos Zambrano to Aramis Ramirez to Kosuke Fukudome. Bad contracts to mediocre players, though $50 million is coming off the books after this season.

Baird or Cherington would inherit the contracts and a mediocre farm system, but that’s where their expertise comes in.

After buying the team in October 2009, Ricketts wanted to give the executives in place time to prove they were worthy of keeping their jobs. While Ricketts is a very private owner and rarely tips his hand, there have been signs that he is thinking about an overhaul. That could mean that Hendry, team president/CEO Crane Kenney, and manager Mike Quade are on the outs.

The Red Sox-Cubs series at Fenway Park in May was tough to watch. It was the first time the teams had played each other in Boston since the 1918 World Series, and the Cubs looked uninterested. It had to be embarrassing to Ricketts and the entire Cubs staff, how poorly the players performed in such a historic setting before national television audiences.

That series may have been the beginning of an overhaul.

Baird, the tireless former Royals GM, has become Theo Epstein’s top talent evaluator. Baird learned from a very difficult run in Kansas City, and he has taken his scouting acumen to Boston, where he has advised Epstein on some of the biggest moves the team has made. Cherington has worn many hats with the Sox, including farm director and interim co-GM with Jed Hoyer after Epstein left in his gorilla suit. Cherington is currently assistant general manager and works closely with Epstein on all baseball matters. There is something to be said for getting the next young up-and-comer, and Cherington is next in line in the Epstein tree.

Strong leaders such as Kennedy and Kapstein would tie good business sense with good baseball knowledge. There are organizations whose president/CEOs barely know what a baseball looks like.

Hale is one of the best at relating to players and coaching them in the right way to play the game. His years under Terry Francona have given him insight on how to handle players and problems in the clubhouse. As bench coach, Hale not only advises on game strategy but relays the manager’s messages in the clubhouse. In other words, Hale is good at putting out fires and averting conflicts.

New owners such as Ricketts have to find a comfort level with the people they hire. Ricketts probably would lean heavily on commissioner Bud Selig and his staff for guidance on hiring for top managerial positions, but in the end, Ricketts has to make the final call.

So would he go with the up-and-comer Cherington, wait out Andrew Friedman in Tampa Bay, or try to pry loose Ned Colletti from the chaos with the Dodgers? Or would he go with someone who is battle-tested and needs another chance, such as Jim Bowden, Jim Duquette, Wayne Krivsky, or Omar Minaya?

What about current Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken, who scouted and signed Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter in consecutive drafts in Toronto?

Ricketts himself has some issues.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that the Cubs are one of nine teams in violation of baseball’s debt service rules, though Selig told the Chicago Tribune that he’s not concerned about the Cubs’ current debt level. Ricketts had to finance more than $400 million to buy the Cubs in a deal that was worth $845 million.

“I have zero concern,’’ Selig told the Tribune. “Everything we’ve ever asked of them, they’ve done it and then more. There is no reason anybody should have economic concerns. It’s so unfair to Tom Ricketts and the family. I normally don’t talk about our business, but I can’t let this go on. This is wrong.’’

In another alarming story, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that because of Ricketts’s debt structure, the Cubs can’t be major players in free agency and will have to emphasize player development

On top of the debt is Wrigley Field, which needs improvements. The Cubs could use another Red Sox link, Janet Marie Smith, to revamp their facility the way she upgraded Fenway Park. Smith is currently employed by the Orioles.

The Cubs are very attractive to anyone seeking work because of the great city they play in and the great tradition they have. And as Epstein found out, winning a championship for the first time in a long time earns you years of good will.

A MAJOR MENTOR

Daubach nurturing Nationals’ phenom

Former Red Sox first baseman Brian Daubach is getting some attention as the first professional manager of Nationals phenom Bryce Harper. Daubach is in his first season as manager of Hagerstown in the Single A South Atlantic League.

“Bryce has been great to manage,’’ said Daubach, “and to watch him experience things and deal with things for the first time as a professional player is really neat.’’

The spotlight was on Harper recently when he blew a kiss at Greensboro pitcher Zachary Neal as he rounded third base on a home run. That certainly came off as cocky, but Harper has backed it up with a .342 average, 14 homers, 43 RBIs, and a 1.055 OPS as an 18-year old.

Daubach has done his best to downplay the incident — saying it was “no big deal’’ — but Washington general manager Mike Rizzo told Harper what he did wasn’t proper etiquette.

For a manager to have the top prospect in baseball on his team, there has to be pressure. What if the kid doesn’t excel? What if he has problems?

So far Daubach hasn’t had to worry about that with Harper.

“We treat him like anyone else,’’ said Daubach. “Bryce wants to be treated like he’s one of the players on our team. We have a close-knit group and Bryce is certainly a part of that.’’

Except that Harper has extraordinary ability.

“His raw power is off the charts,’’ Daubach said. “He’s made the transition from catcher to the outfield. He has a strong arm and he is very aggressive with everything he does.

“There aren’t too many players who I’ve seen compare to him at this age. But there’s a lot more that goes into a major league player than just the ability, and those are things we help him with down here and as he moves up in our system.’’

This is Daubach’s first dance as a manager in a major league system. He has managed independent teams, but with the Nationals, he has to follow their game plan for each player.

Daubach said the goal for him is getting back to the big leagues.

“I have a long way to go,’’ he said, “but I want to pay my dues and be the best manager I can be.’’

SLUMP ON HIS SHOULDERS

Bay’s nose dive in NY cause for deep concern

No question, one of the classiest players to come through Boston was Jason Bay, who essentially and effectively replaced Manny Ramirez in left field, coming over in the three-way deal that sent Ramirez to the Dodgers and Bay from the Pirates to the Red Sox in 2008.

But since he left Boston to sign with the Mets after the 2009 season, his career has dipped dramatically, and there seems to be no real reason.

Was it the concussion he suffered last season? Perhaps, but Bay was struggling even before the concussion felled him most of the second half of 2010.

Bay may now be in danger of losing his starting job, though Mets manager Terry Collins insists that won’t happen.

Bay recently went through an 0-for-23 skid that lowered his average to .207, and he had only two homers and 10 RBIs entering yesterday’s game.

His downfall has almost gotten sad.

“His bat is slow and he’s just not himself,’’ said a veteran scout. “The ballpark [Citi Field] isn’t good for him, but the way he hit his home runs, I never thought that was a big issue. You hope he finds something again because he’s a legitimate run-producer.’’

Things are so bad that Bay is even on board with sitting out. That’s quite a transformation for a player who loved to play every day.

“The biggest thing is the mental break,’’ said Bay, “but also with the way I’m going right now, I’m not really helping a lot out there.

“You get some other guys in there and give them a chance.’’

This isn’t what you want to hear from someone you’re paying $66 million.

The funny thing is, Bay was exactly what the Red Sox needed — a power bat from the right side who hit 36 homers and knocked in 119 runs in his walk year.

And walk he did. A walk that hasn’t worked out well for Bay or the Mets.

Etc.
Apropos of nothing 1. Would Montreal support a successful major league team again if it had a new ballpark? So many who played there miss it; 2. Clint Hurdle has done a great job managing the Pirates, but the Rangers miss him as a hitting coach. His replacement in Texas, Thad Bosley, was fired last week; 3. Why don’t teams have automatic tarps? Push a button and it covers the infield; 4. Seventeen major league pitchers are either recovering from or are about to have Tommy John surgery, according to MLBdepthcharts.com; 5. The Red Sox have hit Alex Rodriguez with pitches 14 times. The Yankees have hit David Ortiz once.

Updates on nine 1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF, Mariners — When is he ever spoken about in a negative light? Probably never. Ten straight 200-hit seasons, a .328 career average. But where has it gone? He hit .210 in May and started 5 for 36 (.147) in June. He is a 10-time Gold Glove winner but ranks last among major league right fielders in UZR. At age 37, is this a slump or loss of ability? He entered yesterday’s game at .252, 76 points below his career average, and on Friday, he was out of the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 30, 2009.

2. Jose Iglesias, SS, Pawtucket — Great conversation between a couple of scouts the other day in New York. “Play him every day in the big leagues right now,’’ said one. “Who cares how much he hits? You have enough offense in that lineup, especially if [Jarrod] Saltalamacchia hits.’’ Said the other, “He’ll eventually be a good hitter, but right now there’s nobody like him defensively.’’

3. Matt Capps, RHP, Twins — He’ll be highly sought if the Twins feel they can’t get back in the race. Seems to have Yankees written all over him. A scout said, “The only reason I don’t think they’re going to trade him now is because they never want to give up on the season in Minnesota, given that division and given the fact they draw 40,000 a game. Maybe that thinking will change if they keep falling.’’

4. Orlando Cabrera, 2B, Indians — Need him for your contending team? You might be able to get him now. His gig as the full-time second baseman has pretty much ended, as he’ll be sharing time with rookie Cord Phelps, who was promoted from Columbus last week. Phelps, a switch hitter, hit .299 with 7 homers and 40 RBIs and a .391 on-base percentage in Triple A. Cabrera started out well but has hit .213 after May 1.

5. Tyler Clippard, RHP, Nationals — A name you hear a lot as possible trade bait, and Washington would find a strong market for him. Clippard, who has a WHIP under 1.00, would fit in well with the Yankees or Phillies.

6. Bill Hall, INF, Giants — He went to the Astros to be their starting second baseman on the strong recommendation of Terry Francona. Oops. Hall hit .224 before being released last week. He drew interest from the Yankees, Orioles, and Nationals before signing with San Francisco to fill in for Freddy Sanchez (dislocated shoulder).

7. Trent Boras, 3B, Brewers — Scott Boras’s son was drafted in the 30th round, but he has a scholarship to Southern Cal. Do I smell leverage here? Boras represents Prince Fielder with the Brewers, but don’t expect any creative deals here. It seems Trent will go to college.

8. Bob Melvin, manager, A’s — He deserved another chance, and there was some surprise that he didn’t get the Mets job, given that he worked for their organization at the time. But after the disaster that was Bob Geren, Billy Beane wanted a manager with positive energy who he hopes can lead the A’s back into the AL West race. “Beane made the move now because he thought there was something to salvage,’’ said an American League general manager. “They still have the pitching. So it’s not out of the realm of possibility.’’

9. Kirk Gibson, manager, Diamondbacks — I regret not listing him in last week’s column about the 25 most passionate people in baseball. He is one of the hottest managers in baseball, presiding over a very tough team that plays hard in Gibson’s image. He’s an early Manager of the Year candidate.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “There are 31 active players who had 1,000 hits, 175 homers, 500 RBIs, and 500 runs before their 30th birthday. Adrian Gonzalez will join that group very shortly; his 100th hit this season will be the 1,000th of his career.’’ Also, “It’s insane to think that Cliff Lee has had 13 games in which he struck out at least 10 and walked one or none. FYI: Nolan Ryan had 25 of those games and Sandy Koufax had 29.’’ And, “Only 14 Hall of Famers have had 2,600 hits, 200 homers, 500 doubles, and 1,600 runs. That select group includes Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, and Ted Williams. Johnny Damon has reached, or is approaching, all those numbers.’’ . . . Larry Baldassaro, author of “Beyond DiMaggio: Italian-Americans in Baseball,’’ will have a book signing Friday at the downtown Borders store (10 School Street) at 1 p.m. Foreword is by Dom DiMaggio . . . Wish Ernie Whitt (59) and Mel Parnell (89) happy birthday tomorrow.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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