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I used to wonder why sportswriters and other pundits would use expressions like “I’m hearing X,” or “chatter is picking up on Y.” If you’re hearing something specific, just say exactly what you’re hearing, right?

Well, I’m starting to get it.

It’s not always that writers are trying to mask the strength of their rumors, or to make themselves sound like they know more than they do. It turns out that sometimes, you’ll hear something vague-ish from one source (they don’t have details or can’t share specifics), and then you hear something similar from another source. Taking them together, you don’t have a concrete “I can now report Thing Z is Happening.” But you can harmonize them into a coherent narrative of what is *probably* happening behind the scenes. Thus, the best you can do sometimes is say things like “I’m hearing X,” or “chatter is picking up on Y.”

With that thorough preamble in mind, I have heard today, from multiple sources (within one hour of each other), a variety of non-specific things that all coalesce into one narrative, the truth of which I’m certain: the reason the Theo Epstein compensation issue is coming to a head this week is because it is impacting the Cubs’ efforts to consider trade opportunities for Matt Garza.

The interrelated nature of these two issues is manifesting itself in three ways:

(1) the Cubs may want to settle the compensation issue as a part of a trade of Garza to Boston, but because the two sides cannot agree on what is fair compensation for Epstein, they can’t properly evaluate how much the Cubs should get in return for Garza (i.e., a haul of prospects minus the value of fair compensation);

(2) the Cubs may want to use a player or players acquired in a trade of Garza to another team to compensate Boston, but, again, without a clear understanding of what kind of value Boston deserves, it is difficult to make a clear choice; or

(3) the Cubs may need to know what players of their own they are still going to have after sending compensation to Boston in order to best choose what prospects they want in return for Garza (because, as I mentioned yesterday, multiple teams have stepped back up to the table to speak to the Cubs about Garza – including at least one team that hasn’t previously been considered a primary suitor).

This week, Gordon Wittenmyer reported that a source told him Red Sox President Larry Lucchino requested a month ago that Bud Selig finally settle the compensation issue. Why, then, would the issue just be re-emerging this week? My best sense? Because the Cubs are now just as interested as the Red Sox in resolving the matter quickly, and the pressure to come a conclusion is now coming from both sides.

I know that’s a lot to digest, and doesn’t have much in the way of specifics. But, at its core, it makes perfect sense: if you’ve got an outstanding liability that will impact your prospect situation, it would be nice to have that resolved before you address your prospect situation by way of shipping your most valuable trade piece. None of this means that, ultimately, the resolution of the compensation issue will in any way impact a Garza trade or non-trade (in fact, in some ways, the Cubs hope it has no impact whatsoever). It means only that the Cubs don’t want the issue looming over their heads as they try to figure out what the best path is with Garza.

On the possibility of, and timing of, a Garza trade, be reminded: while the Cubs would likely prefer not to break camp with Garza, thereby risking injury or ineffectiveness, they are perfectly content to do so. The possibility of an extension remains on the table (though I’m told Garza’s side has not yet shown a great deal of interest), as does the possibility of a mid-season trade, when, potentially, Garza’s value will be even higher. Further, to the extent the Cubs would like a 2011 draft signee included, as I mentioned yesterday, they’ll have to wait until six months after that player signed for him to be included as a PTBNL – for most signees, six months after signing is mid-February.

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