Epstein compensation issue unresolved
CHICAGO - The Red Sox were pushing hard for a resolution to the Theo Epstein compensation issue last night, hoping to get a deal done with the Cubs before the start of the World Series tonight in St. Louis, but it appears the negotiations will continue this week.
According to a Sox official, the team was holding its ground on the quality of compensation, feeling that their general manager - who has agreed to a five-year deal with the Cubs - is worth a significant prospect or two.
It did not appear that the deal would fall through entirely.
“We need to get on with our business,’’ said the Sox official. “And I would think the Cubs would as well. We feel Theo Epstein has a value and we’re going to get that value.’’
The Sox have been trying to move on with other business, including the finalization of a list of managerial candidates. While it doesn’t appear that they have actually interviewed anyone, they are doing their due diligence on the people they’ve identified as their strongest candidates.
But the Epstein situation is creating a logjam.
The Sox have tried a normal negotiating approach, with assistant GM Ben Cherington doing most of the work, with Larry Lucchino in the background. The Cubs have assistant GM Randy Bush doing their legwork, with owner Tom Ricketts weighing in.
Would having Epstein negotiate his own compensation be a better way to go for the Cubs? After all, it’s he who will be rebuilding the franchise, and losing one prospect such as righthander Trey McNutt likely won’t set the franchise back, since a major overhaul is needed.
Throughout Epstein’s tenure in Boston, he has not been afraid to give up prospects for a significant player. He gave up Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Reymond Fuentes in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. He gave up Nick Hagadone, Justin Masterson, and Bryan Price in the Victor Martinez deal. He surrendered an impressive bounty of players in the Erik Bedard deal, for little return.
So why not give the OK to give up someone like McNutt for himself?
Jon Heyman reported on SI.com that Epstein may be eyeing San Diego GM Jed Hoyer to be his general manager in Chicago while he takes on the role of president. There’s also talk of former Sox assistant GM and former Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes coming aboard to assist Epstein. Epstein is also close to Jason McLeod, Boston’s former scouting director who went to the Padres with Hoyer.
That may be a sign that Allard Baird, whom Epstein brought to Boston a couple of years back to be his top talent evaluator, won’t be able to follow Epstein to Chicago.
Baird, who also is involved in the compensation negotiations, would not comment.
For now, it doesn’t appear that the Sox will allow a wholesale raid of their front office by Epstein. At least not yet. When Cherington is named general manager, Baird, a former Royals GM, could fill an even bigger role, perhaps as Cherington’s assistant.
Cherington is well-versed in running a baseball team, but it never hurts to have veteran evaluators such as Baird around. Epstein had a top guy in the late Bill Lajoie, who helped execute the Josh Beckett-Mike Lowell deal along with Jeremy Kapstein, Hoyer, and Cherington in 2006. Former Sox GM Dan Duquette employed Lee Thomas, another strong veteran evaluator, who helped land Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, and veteran baseball evaluator Eddie Haas.
The Sox have come hard at the Cubs for even an established player such as righthander Matt Garza. Given the anger of fans toward Sox ownership over the 7-20 September collapse, the team needs to come away with something of significance for Epstein.
There didn’t seem to be any fear that the deal would fall through entirely, but if it did happen, it would create an awkward situation in which Epstein likely would have to sit out a year until his contract expired before joining the Cubs.
Epstein is receiving major backing for his move to the Cubs from former Sox star Curt Schilling, now an ESPN analyst, who said, “I would tell you, if he spends the same amount of time he spent in Boston and Chicago, you’ll have a World Series. I don’t question that for a second.’’
Schilling spoke glowingly of Epstein, saying, “You could trust him. As a general manager, that’s not something that’s common. From a baseball perspective, for what it’s worth . . . I’ve been playing the game since I was 5 years old. I would like to think I have a decent baseball IQ, and I can spot smart people. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met at the game that hasn’t played, and that is a big thing.
“He’s very clear about where his strength and weaknesses lie. He surrounds himself with incredibly smart people. He understands that the strength of an organization starts with its personnel, its scouting, and its player development. Everybody is put in place to support the structure at the top, which is the big league roster.’’
One of the problems in consummating a deal has been Chicago’s lack of talent. Outfielder Brett Jackson is the top prospect, but the Cubs have balked on giving him up, according to a source who is familiar with the talks.
It’s not clear whether the Sox have asked the Cubs to take on the John Lackey contract as compensation, but it doesn’t appear the Cubs would go for that, either.