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Sox want the goods from Cubs

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / November 17, 2011

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MILWAUKEE - It is mid-November and Theo Epstein is entrenched as the Chicago Cubs’ president of baseball operations.

The Red Sox elected to allow Epstein to resign, though he had a year left on his contract, and agreed to work with the Cubs on compensation. Leading up to that point, the sides tried for weeks to reach agreement on compensation. Epstein sat awkwardly in his office at Fenway Park, waiting it out, at times trying to suggest creative ways to get the matter done.

The Red Sox asked for ace righthander Matt Garza. They asked for young shortstop Starlin Castro, as this correspondent had proposed.

They were rebuffed on those requests, but when the agreement was reached to let Epstein go, as a Red Sox source reiterated yesterday, the understanding was that Boston would receive a “significant’’ return.

Since then, Epstein and new Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington have been at loggerheads as they continue to discuss a settlement.

There was a deadline of Nov. 1 imposed by commissioner Bud Selig. That came and went. There was a week extension granted. And more time was bought when progress was perceived to be made. Then it was time for this week’s GM/owner meetings, and Cherington and Epstein again chatted, but nothing has happened, although Cherington said last night that he and Epstein will not rush the process, and MLB will allow them to do that.

One MLB source indicated that with the intensity of the collective bargaining talks going on, the Red Sox-Cubs compensation issue is low on the to-do list. It doesn’t mean the sides can’t decide the compensation in a flash, so MLB continues to encourage them.

The last thing MLB wants is to set a precedent in such matters by reassigning a player.

It’s difficult to predict whether MLB would want to discourage the future raiding of staffs by making the Cubs surrender a significant player, or whether they would go the midrange prospect route, which may upset the Red Sox but satisfy the Cubs.

The sides have discussed just about everything under the sun.

There have been talks about allowing other Red Sox staffers to leave in exchange for a better player or two. There have been talks about a trade in which the Red Sox would receive the better end of the deal. There have been talks about established roster players such as Marlon Byrd and Sean Marshall. And there have been talks about the Cubs giving up a top prospect such as righthander Trey McNutt.

One problem is that the Cubs have so few prospects in their system. For Epstein to give any up would hurt. His biggest priority - as he and general manager Jed Hoyer have said the past couple of days - is getting good players in their farm system.

The key word in the compensation issue is “significant.’’ It’s unclear whether anything was put in writing or whether this is a gentleman’s agreement, with the sides acting in good faith to get the deal done. But the Sox are digging in their heels.

“They should have never made the deal to let Theo go without the compensation being resolved,’’ said an executive from an American League team. “How can you expect Theo to be able to negotiate a deal for himself? How is he supposed to reach agreement on a significant player for himself? I think that’s asking something unrealistic.’’

As we’ve written a few times, a similar situation occurred in 1994. Andy MacPhail left the Twins to become president of the Cubs. MacPhail, however, was able to negotiate a deal with his replacement, Terry Ryan, on a player. The discussions, according to MacPhail, went very smoothly and the compensation was decided quickly.

The Cubs need to protect some of their better players or get top value for them in trade. Epstein could be open to dealing Garza, for instance, but he would have to get a great return. Would this type of deal constitute compensation?

The Cubs have other intriguing players, such as closer Carlos Marmol, who blew 10 saves last season but has electric stuff. Marshall is an intriguing setup man, and outfielder Tyler Colvin, a lefthanded hitter, belted 20 homers in part-time duty two years ago, though he has yet to really blossom.

Would righty Jeff Samardzija be considered “significant’’? Samardzija went 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA in 75 games with a WHIP of 1.29. He has been a reliever but is projected by some as a future starter. At age 26, the former Notre Dame receiver could be an intriguing player to the Red Sox.

There is a prospect in Chris Carpenter, who could be a starter or a reliever. Or the Sox could take a chance on returning starter Andrew Cashner.

For sure, there are players on the Chicago roster who would satisfy the “significant’’ aspect of these negotiations.

Epstein has joked that he doesn’t consider himself that valuable, but the Red Sox disagree. The way they’re reading this is, they need something of substance. And they won’t back off until they get it, or the Commissioner’s Office takes the matter out of their hands.

And even then, the Red Sox are expected to make certain MLB knows how they feel.

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

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