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You say you want a resolution?

Compensation delay continues to baffle

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / February 12, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - So what is the status of the Theo Epstein compensation?

When you ask, you get, “I don’t know.’’

The matter is in the hands of the Commissioner’s Office, but there is no timetable on when Bud Selig is going to rule on it.

This is no small issue; it’s one that could have ramifications on future cases.

Red Sox officials seem to think they’ll know what they’ll be getting from the Cubs “before the official start of spring training.’’ But is that when pitchers and catchers report, or when the full squad shows up?

Since Epstein left his post as Sox GM to become president of baseball operations for the Cubs, the compensation issue has been a strange one.

You would think that because Epstein and new Sox GM Ben Cherington worked so closely together for so long (they were still in the same office while the Sox and Cubs were trying to work out a deal), something would have been done already. But the closeness of the relationship seems to have had the opposite effect.

It got to the point where the Sox really had to move on with their offseason and had to have a clear decision as to who was their GM. So Sox president Larry Lucchino agreed to let Epstein out of the final season of his contract with the understanding from Cubs owner Tom Ricketts that the Red Sox would receive a “significant’’ player in return.

Was a list of players the Sox deemed “significant’’ ever exchanged with the Cubs?

In the early going, the Sox gave it the old college try, asking for Matt Garza or shortstop Starlin Castro. Now that’s significant. Of course they were rebuffed.

Then all sorts of combinations were discussed, and neither side could agree on anything.

Selig threatened to take control of the matter if the sides didn’t meet a deadline. They did not.

So the Commissioner’s Office took the matter back, but there were delays because the new collective bargaining agreement was being finalized.

If there is something about to be decided, nobody claims to know, though it has leaked that both teams have submitted names to the commissioner.

So what is fair?

“Significant’’ would be someone such as Travis Wood, who was just acquired by the Cubs in the Sean Marshall deal with the Reds. He is a 25-year-old lefthander the Sox could use as a fifth starter. But would the Commissioner’s Office take a player Epstein and Jed Hoyer just traded for and hand him over to the Sox?

The Sox have always liked two Cubs utility players, Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson. Is that enough?

Then there is a prospect such as first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was traded from Boston to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and then dealt to the Cubs this offseason after a poor major league debut with the Padres. While there isn’t a need in Boston for Rizzo now, maybe you get him for the future.

The Cubs also have third baseman Josh Vitters, a high draft choice with unfulfilled promise, shortstop Junior Lake, and outfielder Matthew Szczur. They have righty Chris Carpenter, who looks like he’ll make the Cubs bullpen, and lefty James Russell. There’s veteran righty Jeff Samardzija, whose arm has always intrigued teams out of the pen.

Other top prospects include outfielders Brett Jackson and Reggie Golden, shortstop Javier Baez, righties Trey McNutt, Zach Cates, and Dillon Maples, and catcher Wellington Castro.

It doesn’t appear the Sox are interested in high-priced salary dumps such as Alfonso Soriano or Ryan Dempster, unless most of the money is eaten by the Cubs.

Veteran Marlon Byrd could serve a role with the Sox in the outfield, especially with Carl Crawford’s 2012 season possibly delayed after wrist surgery.

But the Cubs don’t have a lot.

Epstein has joked throughout the process that he’s not worth a significant player. He has also maintained that this isn’t the first time an executive has left a team to take a promotion with another team. But the Sox allowed Epstein to leave with the stipulation that they be compensated fairly.

If the Sox can’t get the major league player they want, they need to get one of the Cubs’ top 10 prospects. The Sox, like most teams, need pitching depth, and a guy such as McNutt certainly would seem like fair compensation.

Epstein and Hoyer already have made deals in which they’ve dealt players, such as pitcher Andrew Cashner, who might have been attractive to the Sox.

It’s astounding that this issue has gone unresolved so long.

But because it has, it must mean the Sox will end up with a decent player.

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

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