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Relief at last: Carpenter is the compensation

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / February 22, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - In the end, the Red Sox were satisfied with what they got as compensation for Theo Epstein: righthanded reliever Chris Carpenter.

But did they win or lose in this compensation case, which took upward of four months to settle and took all sorts of twists and turns until the Sox and Cubs eventually worked it out, with a little guidance from the Commissioner’s Office?

While it is the most significant compensation ever awarded a team in exchange for an executive, the Red Sox were unable to secure a top player or prospect in the Chicago organization.

Carpenter, 26, is a pitcher the Red Sox have scouted for a long time, and one they like. While he has had issues with throwing strikes, he has a plus arm, throws 95 m.p.h., and has a chance to make Boston’s bullpen, just as he had a chance to be in Chicago’s this season.

Once Epstein was allowed to leave with a year remaining on his contract, the Red Sox started this process back in October by asking for Matt Garza. Many names and scenarios were presented, and even now, the deal still isn’t done yet. The teams must exchange players to be named later, part of a new rule put in place by the Commissioner’s Office that each side must get a player in return to execute a deal like this.

So the Red Sox and Cubs have agreed to exchange players even below the level of Carpenter. They have exchanged lists of four or five names, and they will scout those players in spring training before making the deal complete.

There were a lot of players the Red Sox preferred over Carpenter, and all you have to do is peruse the Baseball America top 10 list to see who they are. They were interested in pitching, and Trey McNutt was one of their preferences, but they didn’t come close to getting him.

The Cubs were able to get Epstein without giving up a player essential to their long-term success. As we said, Carpenter is serviceable, and he may be a decent bullpen piece for Boston - especially with Bobby Jenks possibly not available until May or June, if that, after two back surgeries.

The Red Sox thought they had a verbal agreement that there would be “significant’’ compensation. But the sides never agreed on what “significant’’ was until the past couple of days.

The Commissioner’s Office reviewed briefs submitted by the teams, then threw it back to Epstein, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, and Red Sox GM Ben Cherington to work out the final name.

Obviously, the Commissioner’s Office didn’t feel the Red Sox were entitled to a top 10 prospect; Carpenter was ranked No. 13 on the Cubs list by Baseball America. But the Red Sox shouldn’t receive the equivalent of a bag of balls, either.

So a compromise was struck, for a player on the 40-man roster. The Red Sox got a decent player, but not one likely to make a big impact.

After four months of angst, the Red Sox really came out of it no better off than when they entered it, while the Cubs got their head of state and surrendered only a marginal player.

“We’ve scouted Chris since his amateur days at Penn State,’’ said Cherington. “We saw a lot last year, including the fall league. We felt he was making good adjustments there.

“We’re happy to have him, a young, power-arm reliever who can be a big league pitcher.’’

Epstein issued a statement, saying, “I am relieved that this process is over and particularly pleased that the teams were able to reach agreement on their own without intervention from MLB.

“I truly hope and believe that this resolution will benefit both clubs, as well as Chris, who is an extremely talented reliever joining a great organization at a time when there’s some opportunity in the major league bullpen.

“More than anything, I’m excited that we can all move forward and focus exclusively on getting ready for the season. I wish Chris and the Red Sox nothing but the best in 2012 and beyond.’’

To make room on the roster for Carpenter, the Red Sox placed Jenks on the 60-day disabled list.

Carpenter made 42 relief appearances combined at Double A and Triple A last season. In 10 major league outings, he had a 2.79 ERA. Overall, he is 21-19 with a 3.62 ERA in four minor league seasons.

Carpenter, a third-round draft pick in 2008, told reporters in Cubs camp, “Well, as soon as they called me into the coaches’ office, I kind of had a feeling of what was going on.

“I can’t say anything bad. I appreciate everything the Cubs have done for me. It’s been a great organization the past four years. I’m looking forward to going to Boston and helping them win now.’’

Carpenter’s teammates kidded him after getting the news.

“I guess my name will go down in history,’’ he said.

Hoyer believes the Cubs gave up a quality pitcher.

“Chris is a very good reliever,’’ Hoyer said. “He’s a difficult guy to lose. I think we all realized we were going to lose something of significant value when Theo came over here. This doesn’t change that.

“Obviously, the Cubs are excited about the new management team with Theo leading it. There was a price to be paid for it, and that price was Chris.

“I think we all thought that was fair, but he is talented and we wish him luck. Hopefully, both sides do well by this agreement.’’

Cherington said the issue took so long to settle because of the unique circumstance.

“It’s easier to assign value to figure out what’s fair and not fair,’’ he said. “In this case, it was tougher because it involved an executive and a friend. We can now move forward.’’

Amen to that.

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

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