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Old 12-09-2005, 02:40 AM  
tk13 tk13 is offline
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Posnanski: Baird needs Royals to win

I posted this on the Benson thread on the main board...

http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansas...s/13363836.htm

On the SPOT

Baird needs Royals to win, but he’s sticking to his plan

JOE POSNANSKI

DALLAS — The mystery second baseman seemed a good way to peer into the mind of Royals general manager Allard Baird. Early in the week at baseball’s winter meetings, Baird announced he was close to trading for a second baseman.

He was quick to say that this guy would not be the second baseman, not some savior, but, in Allard-speak, a “piece of the puzzle guy.” The Royals have lost a lot of games in Allard Baird’s 5 1/2 years as general manager. If an election was held in Kansas City, he would surely be voted out of office. Everybody understands that.

But give him this: He has found treasures among those “piece of the puzzle guys.” Other general managers admire this about him. Paul Byrd pitched well enough to get big-money deals. Raul Ibañez turned into a pro’s pro. Even outfielder Emil Brown, while he often struggled with concepts like fly balls, hit with authority much of last season.

Now, Baird hinted that he found a second baseman who might follow in that path, a guy who, given the chance, might just surprise a lot of people.

“Who is it?” we ask.

“I’m not going to tell you,” Baird says.

Allard Baird is under no illusions about the upcoming season. “If we don’t win games, I’m fired,” he says. “You don’t have to be a genius to figure that one out.”

This “I’m fired” concept doesn’t throw him. Baird has always been pretty philosophical about individual goals like job security. He’s a team guy. A Royals guy. He is, again using Allard-speak, an “organization above one’s-self” guy. Last season, when the Royals lost 19 games in a row and inspired jokes on the late-night talk shows, there was tremendous pressure to make changes. According to three sources, Baird went to Royals owner David Glass and team president Dan Glass and offered his own head.

“If you need a scapegoat, please fire me,” he reportedly told the Glass menagerie. “If that will help us stick with the plan, then that’s the right thing to do. Obviously I don’t want to get fired, but the most important thing is that we stick with the plan.”

The Glasses, obviously, did not fire him. They gave him one more year to see if the plan will work. Yeah, that’s more Allard-speak: The Plan (sometimes called “The Direction). The Plan builds around young players. While the Royals have lost 100 games three of the last four years, Baird has done his level best to stockpile young talent. How successful has he been? Well, you know the players: Mark Teahen, David DeJesus, John Buck, Zack Greinke, Denny Bautista, Ambiorix Burgos, Andrew Sisco, and so on.

“It’s been hard, but I feel like we’ve made it through the hardest times,” Baird says. “We didn’t give up on the plan to a win a few games. We took our lumps, but now we think those younger players are ready to help us win games.”

“But you have to be right,” I say. “I mean, those young guys haven’t proven anything yet. You have to be right about them.”

“Absolutely,” he says. “We have to be right. We think we are right.”

“What if you’re wrong?”

“You already know the answer to that,” he says.

“He’s got a good on-base percentage,” Allard Baird says. He’s talking about the mystery second baseman. He has gotten so tired of my nagging, he’s giving out hints.

“He’s a good on-base percentage guy, and he’s versatile,” Baird says.

I go back to the computer, the statistics, and try to figure it out. Who has a good on-base percentage? Baird has said for a while that he treasures OBP. But, paradoxically, the Royals have not reached base much in Baird’s time. In his five full years as GM, the Royals OBP is a miserable .322, seven points below even the league average.

Still, Baird talks about getting on base, so I look at some of the candidates who are versatile and get on base some. I hit on the name. It’s Jamey Carroll. He’s 31, playing with Washington. The Senators are overloaded with middle infielders. Carroll plays a lot of positions. He has a decent on-base percentage. He’s never gotten a real chance to play everyday. Everything fits. It’s him. I call Baird.

“It’s Jamey Carroll,” I say.

“Is Jamey Carroll fast?” he asks.

“No.”

“I told you this guy is fast,” Baird says.

He hangs up. Fast? Wait. He never said anything about this guy being fast.

People like to come up to Allard Baird during the meetings and say, “Hey Al, how much sleep did you get last night?” In the manic world of baseball, where people measure each other by the rings under the eyes, Baird is unique. He does not stop. He sees games, scouts prospects, helps run minicamps, travels to Latin America and Japan, and always has the cell phone to his ear.

He thinks Royals non-stop, every minute, all year long. At night, he will often wake up with a Royals thought, scribble it down on a piece of paper, crumple it up, and throw it into the middle of the room to be read later.

“I can’t imagine that there’s a GM in the game that works harder than Allard,” one baseball executive says.

Of course, as Baird will tell you, a general manager is not judged by his work ethic or his dedication or even his integrity — all undeniable strengths of Allard Baird. He is a good person, one of the best I’ve ever been around.

But a general manager is judged by the team he puts on the field. That’s it. His report card is in the newspaper, every day, all summer long.

And the Baird report card is not good. The Royals lost 106 games last year, 104 the year before. Baird signed and traded for Juan Gonzalez, Brian Anderson, Jose Lima, Benito Santiago and Eli Marrero. For one reason or another they all flamed out.

The Royals top prospects — Ken Harvey, Chris George, Jimmy Gobble, Dee Brown, Dan Reichert, Colt Griffin, Kyle Snyder and now even Zack Greinke — have not emerged.

Baird knows that he has made mistakes. Chief among them, he says, was not going into a sweeping rebuilding mode sooner. But he does believe deeply in his own baseball instincts and the baseball sense of the people who work with him. He believes they have collected a core of young players who can make this team a contender.

“There is no question about it, we’ve got to start winning games,” Baird says. “And it’s not just for the standings. We have to prove to everybody — the fans, the media, ownership and even ourselves — that we can play.

“It’s one thing for me to say, ‘I think Mark Teahen’s going to be a real good player.’ That doesn’t mean anything. It’s another thing for him to go out there like he did at the end of last year and give us good at-bats, play with more confidence. That’s what we need now. I think we’ve got good players. But we need guys to prove it.”

Willie Harris. That’s the second baseman. I’m sure of it. I’ve lined up all the second basemen available in trades, and looked to see which one is fast, has a good on-base percentage and can be called versatile. Chicago’s Willie Harris fits. He has speed. His on-base percentage isn’t great, but it’s not terrible. And he can play second and the outfield. Also, the White Sox have made no secret that he’s a backup and available in a trade.

I’m a little bit bothered because the White Sox and Royals are in the same division and might not trade with each other. But in the end, this one makes too much sense. I go to see Allard in his suite. Royals’ manager Buddy Bell is there, along with several Royals executives, including assistant general manager Muzzy Jackson.

“Well?” Baird asks.

“Willie Harris,” I say.

Laughter breaks out everywhere in the room. I sense I may be wrong.

“This guy has better plate discipline,” Baird says after the laughter fades out.

I slowly slink out of the room. “Craig Counsell?” I ask as the door closes behind me.

There is one simple, unquestionable truth about being the general manager of the Royals: You have to be smarter than other GMs. It’s not good enough to be as smart as Brian Cashman or Kenny Williams or Walt Jocketty. Those guys have more money. They have more scouts. They can afford to pay draft picks more. They can make big-money mistakes, and it won’t knock them backward five steps.

And, let’s not forget, big-money teams can afford to pay more for general managers.

People tire of hearing it, but money is still the overwhelming reality in baseball. And sure, every so often Oakland’s Billy Beane or Minnesota’s Terry Ryan can beat the house, at least for a while. But people do forget the subtitle of the book “Moneyball.” It is “The Art of Winning An Unfair Game.” That’s the point.

“I think most people have at one time or another thought, ‘Poor Allard,’ ” says one assistant general manager. “It’s hard to win when you have no money to spend. That might be a whole different team if they could have kept Carlos Beltran and Johnny Damon. … I think people around the game think a lot of Allard. It’s just rough there.”

Baird hates when people talk this way. “I should be judged by our record, plain and simple,” he says. “I don’t want to hear the money talk. That’s an excuse. We lost 106 games last year. That’s me. I didn’t do my job well enough. That’s the bottom line.

“The one thing I’m proud of, though, is we stuck together through it. It was hard. But we didn’t panic. We didn’t trade away our core players. We stayed with the direction. I’m not dumb. I know there are challenges in Kansas City. But we held together through some hard times. And now it’s time to start winning games.”

A Royals source comes to the rescue. He will not tell me the name of the second baseman — it’s like talking to Deep Throat in a parking garage — but he gives me a crucial hint. “He’s hitting well in the Dominican winter league,” my Hal Holbrook says.

Back to the stats. There are two second basemen hitting well there. One is Washington’s Bernie Castro, who leads the league in hits. The other is Texas’ Esteban German, who leads in stolen bases. They are about the same age (German is 27, Castro 26), neither one has been given much of a chance. Both have some speed and versatility.

So, much of the night, I study the numbers of the two players closely. This has become something of an obsession. WWAD? What Would Allard Do? I finally choose German, figuring that he seems to have more speed and a better on-base percentage. I corner Allard before the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. We’re both bleary eyed.

“It’s Esteban German, isn’t it?” I say.

“Good work,” Baird says. He then talks about how he likes German’s speed and plate discipline, thinks he could be a good utility infielder and, perhaps, the everyday starting second baseman next year.

“You know,” I tell him, “I spent an awful lot of time trying to figure out your mystery second baseman. I didn’t think I would end up with some guy I never heard of, Esteban German, who had four at-bats in the majors last year. I’m not sure that was worth it.”

Baird smiles an odd little smile, one that seems to say, “Now you might have a little taste of what it’s like to be general manager of the Royals. Other guys are signing big money free agents, and I’m sweating it out for Esteban German.”

But that’s not what he says at all.

“Come on, you know it was fun,” he says. “This guy’s got a chance to be pretty good. I’m excited. He’s a ‘piece-of-the-puzzle’ guy.”

And with that, he heads off to another meeting to find more puzzle pieces. One the way he talks to another agent. He shakes hands with a dozen people. A few minutes later, the Royals announce that they traded their pick in the Rule 5 Draft for Esteban German, a versatile little second baseman who is tearing up the Dominican Republic.

“I think he wants to prove himself,” Baird tells reporters. He is talking about Esteban German. But Baird means himself, too.
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Old 01-06-2006, 08:07 PM   #2
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at least he's honest.

he will be fired, but there's not a whole lot we can do in this market until the MLB fixes their $ situation.
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