Royals struggled under Baird
Well-respected GM limited by fiscal constraints
KANSAS CITY -- Allard Baird spent six years as general manager of the Royals before the inability to make significant climbs in the standings led to his dismissal on Wednesday.
Baird, 44, was in his 18th year with the Royals organization, beginning as hitting coach with Class A Appleton of the Midwest League in 1988.
Known as a man of integrity, Baird became a respected member of baseball's management community. Players admired his up-front honesty in their dealings with him. Although Baird said he didn't read articles or listen to radio sports-talk shows, he always made himself available to the media.
But he couldn't deliver on the ultimate bottom line: victories. Only one of the seven clubs that fell under his stewardship had a winning record.
It could be argued that the Royals' inability to become a force in the American League Central centered on the departure of center fielder Carlos Beltran.
Given the choice of two young stars, the Royals opted to sign first baseman Mike Sweeney in 2002 to a five-year extension at $11 million per year through 2007.
Sweeney was a slugger. Beltran was a five-tool player.
The Royals made some noise about trying to keep Beltran as his free-agency year approached. Baird was known to have wanted him. But the Royals, according to Beltran, never made an offer. Instead, in June 2004, Beltran was traded to the Houston Astros.
It was a three-way trade that brought third baseman Mark Teahen and pitcher Mike Wood from the Oakland A's and catcher John Buck from the Astros.
Beltran went on to a fabulous half-season and postseason with the Astros and parlayed that into a rich contract with the New York Mets. Buck, Wood and Teahen have contributed to the Royals in varying degrees but none has approached stardom.
Baird, who took over from general manager Herk Robinson on June 17, 2000, always faced an uphill battle to form a competitive team within the financial constraints of a small-market franchise.
With big free-agent contracts looming, Baird had to trade such fan favorites as center fielder Johnny Damon and right fielder Jermaine Dye in addition to Beltran.
In an effort to maintain some stability and keep rising younger stars, Baird eventually signed shortstop Angel Berroa and center fielder David DeJesus to long-term contracts.
During his tenure, only the 2003 team cracked the .500 mark, finishing third with an 83-79 record. Manager Tony Pena, a Baird hire, was named American League Manager of the Year and Berroa was the AL Rookie of the Year.
Encouraged by that turnaround from 100 losses in 2002, Baird attempted to fill holes not covered by younger players by signing veterans for 2004. Right fielder Juan Gonzalez was a complete bust. Other vets, such as pitchers Brian Anderson and Curtis Leskanic, catcher Benito Santiago and second baseman Desi Relaford, did not make an impact.
Last year Baird returned to the youth-movement approach with a lineup that featured Teahen, Buck, DeJesus, Berroa and second baseman Ruben Gotay, and such pitchers as Zack Greinke, Denny Bautista, Runelvys Hernandez, Wood, Andrew Sisco, Ambiorix Burgos and Mike MacDougal.
Some of the youngsters probably were playing over their heads but, at least, they gained experience. Late-blooming outfielder Emil Brown also became prominent.
This season, Baird filled holes where kids weren't considered ready, with Mark Grudzielanek at second base, Doug Mientkiewicz at first base, Reggie Sanders in right field, and Scott Elarton, Mark Redman, Joe Mays and Elmer Dessens on the mound.
It hasn't worked. Greinke, MacDougal and Redman went on the disabled list during Spring Training. Hernandez was shipped to Triple-A Omaha to work himself into shape. Soon the DL also included DeJesus -- and his replacement, Shane Costa -- Bautista again, and, significantly, Sweeney. DeJesus and Costa have returned but Sweeney is still out.
Baird began tinkering in an attempt to prop up his ailing club. The struggling Teahen was optioned to Omaha and Mays was dropped from the starting rotation.
A long-time scout, Baird paid special attention to the First-Year Player Draft and, among the first-round picks under him as GM, only 2001's, pitcher Colt Griffin, has been a severe disappointment.
Baird also joined president Dan Glass as a big backer of the Royals' Dominican Republic Academy and expanded scouting efforts in South America, South Africa, Asia and Australia.
When Baird succeeded Robinson, he inherited Tony Muser as manager and became a solid Muser supporter. Muser was an old-school baseball guy but he didn't win and, finally, in early 2002 Baird decided to make a move.
He dismissed Muser and, after a lengthy process of interviews, Baird made the surprising choice of Pena as his new manager. Pena brought energy, vitality and that one good season of 2003 before resigning in 2005 under an avalanche of losses. This time Baird settled on Buddy Bell as the new skipper.
But, after 104 losses in 2004 and 106 in 2005, this year's club belied its Cactus League promise and was struck by injuries. With a 13-37 record this year, top management decided that was enough for Baird.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.