BALTIMORE -- With just over three weeks remaining before the trading deadline, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein began reshaping his roster for another postseason push, acquiring veteran backup infielder Alex Cora from Cleveland, while setting the stage for the acquisition of veteran righthanded setup man Chad Bradford from Oakland.
The Sox will trade unhappy outfielder Jay Payton to the A's for Bradford, who has been on the 60-day disabled list since March 22 after a second back surgery. Bradford, who is currently on rehab assignment, is expected to come off the DL after the All-Star break, which is why the announcement of the trade is pending -- the A's will need to clear a roster spot first. But in the first step toward that deal, the Sox yesterday designated Payton for assignment and called up Rule 5 outfielder Adam Stern from Triple A Pawtucket. To clear another roster spot, the Sox also optioned lefthander Lenny DiNardo to Pawtucket.
The need for relief help, already acute, became even more pronounced after ineffective closer Keith Foulke underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee at Massachusetts General Hospital and is expected to be out at least six weeks. Details on the surgery were sketchy. In a release from the team, club medical director Thomas Gill said the surgery was to ''treat damaged cartilage in his left knee. The surgery went well, and Keith will be starting his rehabilitation immediately. While recovery from surgery like this typically takes approximately six weeks, Keith's rehabilitation will be advanced based on attaining specific milestones."
Foulke's absence, as well as Curt Schilling's inability to pitch effectively as a starter, are why the Sox are proceeding with their experiment to employ Schilling as a closer. Schilling was in Pawtucket last night to make only his second relief appearance since 1992, when he made 16 relief appearances for the Phillies. Schilling pitched the ninth, giving up a pair of runs -- one earned -- on two hits and two strikeouts in Pawtucket's loss to Ottawa. The big righthander threw 13 strikes in 14 pitches and hit 92 miles per hour on the McCoy Stadium radar gun.
''I haven't seen him pitch [in the minors], but if Schill were to come back right now as a starter, he may not be ready to do that," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. ''But he showed in his appearances that he has the ability to dial it up, especially in his last inning when he thought he was coming out, he was pretty devastating. And when he volunteers to go to the bullpen and all of a sudden you start looking at him, you're thinking, 'You know what, we can turn a negative -- Foulkie getting hurt -- into maybe a positive.' "
Stern's presence in a Sox uniform may be temporary. The Sox are attempting to finalize details of an agreement with Japan's Yomiuri Giants that would allow outfielder Gabe Kapler to return to Boston. It was unclear last night whether the agreement would include financial compensation or another player for Kapler, who was batting just .153 when Yomiuri placed him on the inactive list more than a month ago. Kapler hasn't played since.
Cora, who was in New York with the Indians and was acquired for fellow utilityman Ramon Vazquez, and Stern, who was in Pawtucket and had his cellphone turned off while PawSox manager Ron Johnson was attempting to inform him of his call-up, were both in the starting lineup last night. Cora played shortstop in place of Edgar Renteria and batted leadoff, while Stern played center field in place of Johnny Damon and batted eighth.
''He can be a utilityman or he can play every day for you," Indians manager Eric Wedge said of Cora last night. ''He can really handle the middle infield, especially second base, but he can really play the heck out of shortstop. We just had a situation here with [Jhonny] Peralta and [Ronnie] Belliard playing the way they are that we weren't going to be able to get him enough time out there. But he's a great guy to have on a team."
The acquisition of Bradford does not preclude the Sox from seeking additional pitching help, though it appeared last night that the Sox have yet to show serious interest in Atlanta's Danny Kolb, while Tampa Bay is believed to be asking for top prospects in exchange for closer Danys Baez.
Bradford's health makes him a bit of a risk, but when healthy, the 30-year-old seven-year veteran has been an effective setup man. A submarining righthander whose delivery is even more striking because he stands 6 feet 5 inches, Bradford appeared in 68, 72, and 75 games for the A's in the last three seasons.
Cora, 29, is in his eighth big league season, the first seven spent with the Dodgers, for whom he appeared in at least 100 games in each of the last five seasons. The lefthanded hitter is a career .243 hitter who has made more big league starts at second base (280) than short (200). There is a possibility that the Sox got rid of one unhappy player (Payton) while adding another (Cora), though Francona said he intends to address Cora's situation with him.
''I think in Cleveland, from what I understand, it was a little bit hard for him to adjust to the backup role," Francona said, ''and we're certainly going to visit with him about that and tell him what we expect."
Francona was unable to persuade Payton that there was value to being a part-timer on a championship contender. Payton started only 30 of Boston's first 83 games, and often expressed his displeasure about his role to Francona, and apparently did so again Wednesday night in Texas, according to the Sox manager.
''Jay was having a very difficult time handling his role," Francona said of the outfielder, who hit .265 with 5 home runs and 21 RBIs in 133 at-bats in his free agent year. ''Saying that, when he played, he was a very good player. But he was having a difficult time handling his role, it was a challenge for him to be in that role, there were times it got very frustrating for him." Stern, who was taken from Atlanta in last December's Rule 5 draft, had his big league debut delayed first by a fractured thumb he sustained while sliding in March, then a hamstring injury. The lefthanded hitter had hit safely in 16 straight games for the PawSox until he went hitless Wednesday night.
Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report.