Buried at the very end of a column this morning, Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo dropped a mini bomb of a quote about the Theo Epstein compensation issue that has set a number of Chicago Cubs’ fans’ heads spinning:
The Cubs and Red Sox will soon meet with a representative of the Commissioner’s Office or the commissioner himself to discuss the Epstein compensation issue. The best school of thought on this comes from an AL GM who is not associated with either team: “I think the commissioner will give the Red Sox a significant player. I don’t think MLB wants executives leaving their teams before their contracts are up and therefore he will try to deter teams from doing that again.’’
Let me offer you several reasons to remain calm in the face of what might, without review, seem like a troubling quote.
First and foremost, this unnamed GM is just guessing. The Cubs and Red Sox don’t even know what the compensation is going to be, so it isn’t as though the front office of some other team has Selig on the line, prying from him the most intimate details of his plans for the case. Might it be an educated guess? Sure. But might it also be …
A guess with an agenda? Of course. There’s always an agenda. Here, this particular GM clearly is in a position not to want his executives to leave his organization – for promotion or otherwise – unless his team gets significant compensation. What kind of GM/organization might that be? Probably a big market club with a large front office of expensive talent under contract for a long time. This GM is undoubtedly sending a message to Selig. But the problem is …
An organization in that position doesn’t need Selig’s protection. If he doesn’t want executives under contract leaving, there’s an easy solution: don’t say yes to the interview. If you’ve got a guy under contract, that’s the end of it unless you choose for it not to be. Viewed through that lens, can you not see how ridiculous this GM’s quote is? That’s why you can be sure that this GM’s statement is all about …
Getting a competitive advantage. Those teams that have a store room full of front office talent under contract don’t need Selig to “protect” them by requiring “significant” compensation. They’re the ones with the guys under contract – that’s why they’d love for a precedent of “significant” compensation to be set. They could start selling off their hot shot young executives to the highest bidder. (The Cubs didn’t “steal” Epstein, and Epstein didn’t “abandon” the Red Sox. The Cubs asked for an interview to promote Epstein, and the Red Sox said yes. A legitimate dispute exists about how much the Cubs promised the Red Sox should they ultimately hire Epstein, but that’s an entirely separate issue from what Selig wants to promote as a matter of policy when executives change teams.) If these kind of big market teams don’t need Selig’s protection, the Commissioner’s decision will probably be about …
Small market teams who can’t afford to hoard front office talent. The teams that need Selig’s “protection” are smaller market teams trying to have access to the best executives, whom they’d like to promote from the lower ranks of the large market teams. Those large market teams could otherwise gobble up all the talent with long-term, higher dollar contracts. Does anyone really think that’s what Selig – who pushes for competitive balance over all else – really wants? If he sets a high bar for compensation here, the free flow of executives – where their current team consents, mind you – would be stemmed. The only winners in that scenario are the teams with the most money.
Setting all of that aside, am I saying that the compensation will not ultimately be “significant”? Of course not. For one thing, that word is just a word – and it means different things to different people. Is a top 10 prospect significant? Top 30? Is Matt Garza significant?
Further, there could be any number of layers to the decision-making proces with which we’re not familiar. What exactly was said between the parties when the request to interview was made? What else has been promised? Was there any possible tampering? How much value can you put on one year – and only one year – of an executive? I could go on. The point is: there’s so very much we don’t know.
The best we can do is look at what seems most fair from the outside (a good prospect or two, probably outside the top 15 in the organization, plus cash), and what appears to be the right policy decision for MLB (not over-the-top compensation).
Maybe that yields something “significant.” More likely, it yields something the Cubs will call “significant,” but Red Sox fans will call “not enough.” Almost every other pundit who has weighed in on the issue has said the same.
If Selig ends up commanding that the Cubs give the Red Sox Brett Jackson or Matt Szczur, I’ll be far more likely to suspect that there is something we don’t know than to suspect that Selig is doing it because he doesn’t “want executives leaving their teams before their contracts are up.” You can’t just walk out on a contract, so there’s no risk of executives doing any such thing without permission from their current team. That kind of fear mongering screams “agenda,” and simply doesn’t make any sense here.
And if Selig does so command, here’s hoping the Cubs’ first move is to sign every single hot-shot young executive out there to a long-term contract. There’s no draft cap or luxury tax involved in doing that…