Confidence in a Theo Epstein deal has waned ever-so-slightly as the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox were unable to reach an agreement on compensation yesterday. I’m not panicking yet, but I’m a little nervous. I’m a Cubs fan, after all.

  • Last night, WEEI – who has been ahead of everything on this story – reported that yesterday’s compensation talks did not go well, with the Cubs looking to pay only cash for Epstein, and the Red Sox wanting prospects. Many are seizing on this story to raise some fear that things will fall through, but, given Bruce Levine’s report yesterday that the Cubs have a list of prospects they’re considering trading to the Red Sox, it sounds like the talks are still progressing.
  • For what it’s worth, I’ve been listening to WEEI all morning, and I’ve not heard them express any particular concern that the Epstein deal will not get done.
  • Gordon Edes cites sources who say Epstein has been conducting business as usual in Boston these last few days, still participating in the managerial search, for example. Those sources also say Epstein hasn’t yet told his colleagues that he’s leaving for the Cubs. Shrug. That’s the kind of story that, at first blush, sounds awful and concerning, but let’s step back. How else would this play out? Epstein may have agreed in principle to a deal with the Cubs, but he’s still a Red Sox employee, and, theoretically, things could still fall through with the Cubs during the compensation talks. So, naturally, his instinct would be to keep head down and working, out of an abundance of caution (he is, you’ll remember, an attorney).
  • If you’re at all skeptical and cynical, you have to start to wonder why all of the leaks are coming from the Boston side. A cynical reader would figure that the Sawx are trying to manipulate the discussion – perhaps, for example, work Cubs fans up into a frenzy (“OMG! WE’RE GOING TO LOSE THEO! JUST GET IT DONE, TOM!!! GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT!!! ROAAAR!!!!”), to pressure Cubs ownership to making a deal on favorable terms to the Red Sox. As their ownership has demonstrated in recent days, they have no problem using the media to nefarious ends.
  • The leverage question. Some people, as we have here, say the leverage lies with the Cubs – the Red Sox have all but named Ben Cherington the GM, they’ve trashed their own team, and they’ve started the “we’re ok without Theo” narrative among their fans. Their only option right now to kill the deal is to cut off negotiations with the Cubs, and then pay Theo to sit at home for the 2012 season. Would they really do that, and become the greatest villains in all of sports?
  • Others, on the leverage question, say the Red Sox have it. The Cubs clearly are desperate for Theo, and don’t want to have to come to the fans, hat in hand, saying things fell apart at the zero hour.
  • Where does the truth lie? As it usually does, somewhere in the middle. I think there is no leverage on either side with respect to employing Epstein, himself. My guess is that all sides recognize he’s coming to the Cubs, and the rest is just posturing for the compensation. In that regard, the Red Sox have no leverage at all, except one thing: Epstein wants to take some Sawx employees with him. I still suspect now what you’ll see is the Cubs sending cash and a couple good prospects for Epstein and a couple of his choice Boston employees (NOT guys like Cherington, mind you – probably lower level staffers we’ve not heard of).
  • So, bottom-lining it: how worried am I? Not terribly, but I have a little heartburn. If things fall through at this point, I can assure you it won’t be because the two sides couldn’t agree on compensation. Both sides want to get the deal done, and it will get done. If things fall through, it will instead be because Epstein has had a change of heart (which is hard to predict, not knowing him personally). And, in that case, it will suck, but it’s hard to be angry at the Cubs.


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