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Baseball Notes

Baird made sure Sox’ cupboard wasn’t bare

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 4, 2010

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He’s the finder of lost careers, looking under the bushes to uncover the next, best fill-in.

Of course, Allard Baird does more than that as Theo Epstein’s top talent-finder in his capacity as assistant to the general manager and director of professional scouting for the Red Sox, but his track record of late has been, well, impeccable.

“I don’t even ask where Allard is,’’ said one National League scout. “I know he’s somewhere trying to find something and it’s not always in the traditional places. He does a great job.’’

Baird, 48, is older than most of the people in the Sox’ hierarchy, and his experience level shows. He is quiet and humble, and grateful to be such an important cog again after his tenure as Royals general manager ended after six seasons in May of 2006. Baird, in fact, did not want to be interviewed because he didn’t feel he should receive any more credit than the other hard-working people in the Sox organization.

It’s no secret that Baird, as well as other Sox scouts, have had a lot to do with keeping the team afloat during these trying times. Even last season, Baird recommended the Sox sign Nick Green as protection at Triple A, and lo and behold Green wound up being a big contributor at shortstop. Baird had a lot to do with bringing Darnell McDonald and Daniel Nava (Baird’s top assistant, Jared Porter, deserves credit) to the organization, two players who have helped the Sox hold things together while the regulars get healthy.

The Sox recently signed Ryan Shealy, a big first baseman who never made it in Kansas City. Baird had left the Royals by the time they acquired Shealy from the Rockies in a deal for Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista in July of 2006, but he always liked his bat and felt he was an above-average defensive player. Injuries have prevented the 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pound Shealy from having what should have been a promising career, but he could be a solid righthanded bat off the bench for the Sox.

Baird would be the first to tell you he didn’t always make the right moves in Kansas City, but what he won’t say is how ownership prevented him from spending top dollar. Management forced him to deal Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, and Jermaine Dye, and the yield wasn’t great.

Right before he was fired, Baird was going to take Tim Lincecum with the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, but the Royals went in another direction — Luke Hochevar.

It was under Baird in 2003 that the Royals had their only winning season (83-79) in the last 16 years, but that glow soon diminished when he was forced to oust American League Manager of the Year Tony Pena who was having some personal issues. Baird also dealt with Zack Greinke’s emotional issues at the time, and stood behind the pitcher, who remains close to Baird.

When Baird recommends a player, Epstein listens.

“Allard is willing to go anywhere and do everything at the drop of a hat to scout and sign a player,’’ said Epstein. “And it’s great to have a former GM around to bounce things off.’’

There can be luck involved in any player a team takes a chance on. But with the Red Sox reeling from injuries and a farm system that wasn’t quite ready to spit out prospects for the major league team, depth players like McDonald have been vital.

McDonald is a former first-round pick, so the skill set has been there. He failed the same way a lot of No. 1s do, he wasn’t able hit offspeed pitching enough to stay in the big leagues. This season, however, McDonald is at a respectable .266 (entering last night’s game), and has displayed some pop. His arm strength is among the best on the team and he can play all three outfield positions well. He’s at least earned himself a chance to stay around as an extra.

But when everyone comes back healthy, McDonald may not be with this team if it makes the postseason. The Sox started the season with five outfielders — starters Mike Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury, and J.D. Drew, and backups Jeremy Hermida and Bill Hall.

That leaves McDonald and Nava odd men out should everyone come back. There are lingering issues with Cameron, whose abdominal injury could again land him on the disabled list. And who knows about Ellsbury?

When you think about the impressive manner in which the Sox have hung in, you can trace it to a guy like Baird, who has thought about what-ifs in finding players who create an effective stopgap.

ALIGNING THE STARS

Forced to make some tough choices

One man’s All-Star selections:

American League

1B — Miguel Cabrera. Backup — Justin Morneau. Comment: Tough call on who starts. Paul Konerko and Kevin Youkilis are tough to leave out.

2B — Robinson Cano. Backup — Ty Wigginton. Comment: Wigginton has played other positions, but I like the way this guy handles himself.

SS — Derek Jeter. Backup — Alex Gonzalez. Comment: Nice first half for Gonzalez.

3B — Adrian Beltre. Backup — Evan Longoria. Comment: Beltre is simply the most deserving.

C — Joe Mauer. Backup — Kurt Suzuki. Comment: Suzuki is a very solid all-around player.

OF — Ichiro Suzuki. Backup: David DeJesus. Comment: DeJesus is in demand and having a superb year.

OF — Josh Hamilton: Backup: Alex Rios. Hamilton has really rebounded and Rios is finally playing up to his talent.

OF — Vernon Wells. Backup: Carl Crawford. Comment: Wells is over his injuries and having a good season as a result.

DH — Vladimir Guerrero. Backup: David Ortiz. Comment: Two guys left for dead have revived their careers.

Starting pitchers — David Price, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Jered Weaver, Andy Pettitte, Cliff Lee. Comment: Tough leaving out Phil Hughes and Ricky Romero.

Bullpen — Mariano Rivera, Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria, Rafael Soriano, Jose Valverde. Comment: Wished I could have gone with a good setup man like Daniel Bard.

(Note: Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez would have backed up at second and catcher, respectively, if healthy.)

National League

1B — Albert Pujols. Backup: Joey Votto. Comment: Not much separates these two.

2B — Martin Prado. Backup: Brandon Phillips. Comment: Prado has been sensational.

SS — Hanley Ramirez. Backup: Jose Reyes. Comment: Hanley can be better, but he’s still the best. Reyes has made a nice return.

3B — Scott Rolen, David Wright. Comment: Flip a coin. Rolen’s another guy who has jump-started his career.

C — Miguel Olivo. Backup: Ronny Paulino. Comment: Olivo has had a nice offensive year. Paulino has hit well and done a good job with the Marlins’ staff.

OF — Corey Hart. Backup: Manny Ramirez. Comment: Hart has had a solid year for a guy who wasn’t starting at the beginning of the season.

OF — Carlos Gonzalez. Backup: Marlon Byrd. Comment: Gonzalez is a productive player.

OF — Andre Ethier. Backup: Chris Young. Comment: Ethier has missed some time but he’s having an excellent season, while Young has come back nicely.

DH — Adrian Gonzalez. Backup: Jonny Gomes. Gonzalez misses the first base derby, but we’ll stick him here. Gomes is having a productive season.

Starting pitchers — Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson. Comment: Tough to leave off Mike Pelfrey.

Bullpen — Billy Wagner, Heath Bell, Brian Wilson, Jonathan Broxton, Evan Meek, Arthur Rhodes. Comment: Francisco Rodriguez is an obvious omission. Dodger lefty Hong-Chih Kuo has also been lights-out.

SHAKING IT UP

Diamondbacks try something new

In the process of trying to reinvent the wheel, the Diamondbacks suffered a major flat tire.

Former Red Sox assistant general manager Josh Byrnes tried to bring in a new-wave manager, A.J. Hinch, who had no previous managerial experience, and hoped he could learn on the job. Unfortunately, the D-backs never jelled under Hinch, ace Brandon Webb wasn’t able to make it back from shoulder problems in time to make a difference, the bullpen stunk, and on Thursday Byrnes and Hinch were fired.

Byrnes is definitely a guy who could resurface — even in Boston as an assistant again — but he has five years remaining on his eight-year contract and also has an ownership stake in the team. Byrnes doesn’t have to do much of anything if he doesn’t want to, and could even land a television gig at some point. But a few weeks back, team president Derrick Hall warned that there could be major changes if things didn’t turn around. They didn’t. One of the biggest disappointments was being dismantled in the interleague series against the Red Sox in Boston. At one point they lost 10 straight, and went 0-9 on a road trip.

The team never embraced Hinch’s leadership, or lack thereof, and his desire to be a Buck Showalter type and try to incorporate scouting and development under his umbrella didn’t seem to work for Hinch, the team’s former farm director. Hinch didn’t have the cachet Showalter had.

What’s interesting is that interim manager Kirk Gibson is the anti-Hinch. He’s a guy who did pay his dues as a bench coach in Detroit and then in Arizona. Jerry DiPoto, the interim GM, has been the GM-in-waiting, and was considered in Washington after Jim Bowden was fired, before the job went to Mike Rizzo. DiPoto is a pitching guy, “very creative’’ according to one scout who has known him for years. With DiPoto in charge it will be interesting to see whether Arizona is more inclined to keep Dan Haren rather than deal him.

“I get the feeling the major shots will be called above Jerry,’’ said a DiPoto ally. “If Jerry gets a chance, he’ll do some interesting things, but we’ll see whether he’ll have some reins on him.’’

ETC.

Apropos of nothing

1. Hmmm. Is it a good thing that the A’s Daric Barton has 10 sacrifice bunts, the most by a first baseman in 24 years?; 2. Don’t remember Justin Masterson being a bad fielder, but he’s got five errors in just 33 chances. That’s tied for second on the team and four more than any other Indians pitcher; 3. Never knew Dustin Pedroia’s favorite hitter to watch is Justin Morneau; 4. It’ll be a good story some day: Jacoby’s Rib; 5. Babson baseball coach Matt Noone, the Red Sox’ lefthanded batting practice pitcher, would be a nice fit for the Boston College job if Mik Aoki leaves for Notre Dame.

Updates on nine
1. Jose Guillen, OF/DH, Royals — Guillen spoke from the heart when he called the Royals “the worst fundamental team in baseball.’’ He won’t score any brownie points with teammates or management, but knowing he’ll likely be traded soon liberated him to speak the truth. Others who have left the Royals have shared similar sentiments. Guillen, in the final year of a three-year, $36 million deal, could be moved by the trading deadline. The Braves, Giants, and Rays are looking for a righthanded bat, and although Guillen has been primarily a DH this year, he can still play a corner outfield spot.

2. Kyle Farnsworth, RHP, Royals — Farnsworth has never been one of the most popular guys on his team, but he is having a good season and has pitched for contenders in the past. I have received mixed signals on the Red Sox’ interest in him, but there’s no question he’s an option. “I’d be nervous with him and Boston, but here’s the thing — his stuff hasn’t slipped at all,’’ said one National League scout. “He’s still very strong and John Farrell has a knack of being able to relate to anyone.’’

3. Jack Zduriencik, GM, Mariners — Love the way Zduriencik operates, but I raised an eyebrow when he traded outfielder Ezequiel Carrera and shortstop Juan Diaz for Russell Branyan last week. Branyan is 34 and the Mariners don’t seem to be going anywhere. Ezequiel led the Double A Southern League last season with a .337 average as a leadoff hitter and had 27 steals. Not quite as good at Triple A Tacoma, where he was hitting .268.

4. Yunel Escobar, SS, Braves — While the Red Sox were shopping around for a shortstop the last few weeks, the 27-year-old Escobar, who is not having a good season, would have been tough to obtain with Marco Scutaro on board. Escobar hit .299 with 14 homers and 76 RBIs last season, but the righthanded-hitting Cuban has slumped to .242 with no homers and 18 RBIs entering yesterday’s game. He’s never been a favorite of Bobby Cox and he may, at some point, need to move to third base.

5. Carlos Santana, C, Indians — When you ask scouts about players who make them sit up and take notice, Santana is the guy. Through his first 20 games he hit .313 (entering last night) and all the comparisons to Victor Martinez have been right on. “Looks like he’s going to be a guy, like Victor, who is going to be among the best hitters in baseball for a long time,’’ said one National League scout. “He has a great eye at the plate and he’s not overwhelmed at this level at all. The great ones show that very young.’’

6. Adam Dunn, 1B/OF, Nationals — Dunn’s powerful bat could help a lot of teams, but his dreadful glove gives those same teams pause. There have been rumblings about the White Sox, who could use a DH. Given that Washington could soon be a factor with Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals could probably land a nice prospect or two from the White Sox. The Angels may also be a contender.

7. Wily Mo Pena, OF, Bridgeport Bluefish — The big guy is trying to resurrect his career in the independent Atlantic League, platooning at first base and DH with former major leaguer Josh Phelps. Pena, who has lost 25 pounds, has six homers and 29 RBIs in 32 games. Pena told freelance writer Ken Powtak, “I was just waiting at home for a couple of teams. They said, ‘We just want to see you play.’ I said, ‘I’ll go anywhere to play.’ . . . I’m just here to play, to do the best I can. I play every day. I’ve been working out a lot and doing a lot of running.’’ Pena still carries around his 2007 World Series ring with the Red Sox. “It’s in my locker . . . That’s a special memory of ’07. I take it with me everywhere I go. That was a special time for me.’’

8. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, LSU — Scott Boras told Ranaudo not to sign with the Red Sox right away, and go to the Cape, where he could show his arm was sound. Guess what? Three starts, 16 strikeouts, and two walks over 17 2/3 innings for Brewster. On Friday, he shut out Bourne over seven innings. The 39th overall pick by Boston, who by most accounts was a top-10 talent, now stands to make serious money. “He’s a pretty accomplished young man. Strong, good, live fastball with a nice curveball and an emerging changeup,’’ said one American League scout.

9. Corey Hart, OF, Brewers — He’s available and the Giants have been very interested. The Brewers understand that, given the great season he’s had, he’ll be very expensive in arbitration, which could hinder their plan to keep Prince Fielder. However, the Brewers aren’t completely buried in the NL Central, and don’t forget Ken Macha took Oakland from 15 games below .500 at the end of May in 2005 to first place by Sept. 1. Do the Brewers trade Hart for starting pitching? If they heat up, do they become players for Cliff Lee? This is an interesting team to watch over the next couple of weeks.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “From 2003 to 2008, David Ortiz averaged strikeouts in 17 percent of his plate appearances. Last year and this season he is averaging 22.6 percent with a 25.6 percent this year alone.’’ Also, “Denard Span had three triples in one game last week; Rich Dauer played 1,140 games in his career, from 1976-85, and totaled three triples.’’ . . . George Steinbrenner turns 80 today. Bill Madden’s best-selling book “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball’’ is a great read . . . Happy 39th birthday to Brendan Donnelly.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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