Throughout the Theo Epstein compensation dram, one of the primary owners of the Boston Red Sox – John Henry – and the team’s president – Larry Lucchino – took on mythic identities among Chicago Cubs fans. The two might be fine gentlemen in real life. They might even have been perfectly reasonable and kind throughout this process.

But, to Cubs fans, they became evil personified.

I’m sure it was largely unfair, given that the two were simply fighting to get as much for their organization as they could. But, narrative requires a villain, and ours was, primarily, a grumpy lawyer named Larry Lucchino. And he finally spoke about the process that, four months after Epstein left for the Cubs, landed his team a 26-year-old relief prospect.

“[Chris Carpenter is] a very strong-armed young pitcher who pitched in the major leagues last year, pitched quite well last year in relief, very low ERA in September when he pitched with the Cubs. He’s a guy who throws 95-100 mph,” Lucchino said on a WEEI radio appearance. “[T]his is not meant to be a reflection on Chris Carpenter – we’re excited to have him and pleased to have him. Overall, are we disappointed in the process? I think the answer to that is yes.

“I think the Commissioner’s Office feels the Cubs are disappointed. They didn’t want to lose Chris Carpenter and another player who is going to be named later. They didn’t feel any player compensation was appropriate. They’re disappointed. We’re a little disappointed. The Commissioner’s Office probably says to themselves, ‘If both sides are a little disappointed, no one feels that this is a clear win, maybe we did our mediation job right.’”

Ultimately, Lucchino said he was pleased that the process was over, and is ready to move on.

It’s interesting to hear Lucchino say that the Cubs were arguing that no player compensation was appropriate, which calls to mind a radio appearance Theo Epstein made a month ago, in which he laid out the Cubs’ arguments – which came from a starting point of no compensation, given that Epstein received a promotion. Losing a player like Carpenter was actually the Cubs’ back-up position, based on the Andy MacPhail/Hector Trinidad precedent.

Red Sox owner John Henry also spoke about the issue on WEEI, and about Carpenter. Henry sounded much like Lucchino in trying not to insult Carpenter, but expressing his disappointment.

“How satisfied are we?” Henry asked himself. “In a negotiation, both sides are never, if it’s a tough negotiation, both sides are generally a little unhappy with the way it works. The Cubs probably aren’t ‘happy’ with it; we probably aren’t ‘happy’ with it. Given the amount of time that was spent on it, it probably was the appropriate result.”

One surprising comment came from Henry, who suggested that it was he and Tom Ricketts who screwed things up initially, not Lucchino and Cubs’ business president Crane Kenney.

“I think there was a basic misunderstanding between Tom Ricketts and I when we first spoke about it,” Henry said. “I really admire Tom Ricketts as an owner. He’s one of the best owners in baseball. It’s a great organization. We probably had a misunderstanding at least as far as expectation. There was no real agreement. It was just sort of, the best way to explain it is we probably had different expectations based on the first conversation as to what was transpiring.”

It’s possible that Henry is just being a good leader, and taking things onto himself rather than offloading blame on an underling. Surely Henry knows how the process has been perceived among fans, and he knows that Red Sox fans, in particular, feel aggrieved that the team didn’t insist on compensation before letting Epstein go to Chicago (even if, by the way, it was actually MLB’s involvement that forced the Red Sox’s hand).

But, who knows? Maybe Henry is shooting straight, and, despite everything we’ve heard about a clandestine meeting between Lucchino and Kenney, it was actually Ricketts and Henry discussing Epstein that started this entire unfortunate chain of events. We’ve heard about how casually the conversations between Ricketts and San Diego owner Jeff Moorad went (about Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod) – maybe, during that time period, Ricketts thought all owners were part of a fraternity that helps each other. If so, I reckon he’s learned his lesson.

As I’ve said many times before about the ultimate truth of this story: we’ll probably never know.

The story will continue to serve as a cautionary tale for executive movement, and will be cited immediately the next time one team asks another for permission to interview an up-and-comer.

“Ok,” the team will say, “but let’s settle compensation first. God knows we don’t want to embarrass ourselves like the Cubs and Red Sox.”

  • Fishin Phil

    You mopes thought the Curse of the Bambino was bad??? You ain’t seen nothing yet! Prepare for the Curse of the Puppet! *Phil throws evil eye in direction of Boston*

    • Brian

      Firefighters respond to extinguish small electrical fire at Fenway. The puppet curse begins.

      • Brett

        I hope you’re proud of yourself, Phil.

  • Steve

    I equate this to an out of court settlement. If this had gone to jury (Selig), both sides stood to lose quite a bit.
    Noone knows what was said and to whom. I’m just glad it’s “over”.

    • SirCub

      Haha, I like this idea of saying it’s “over.” I wonder if I can turn in my research proposal to my adviser this afternoon and say it’s “done.” Just needs a methods section to be name later…

      • Steve

        Very good. I’m sure that will go over just fine!

    • Toosh

      If the compensation issue had been decided in a court of law, precedent would have to have been followed. No “who said what to whom” would have been allowed. No hearsay. The Cubs would have given up much less in the form of compensation. Or nothing at all.

      • DocWimsey

        I can attest from personal experience that this is untrue. Verbal commitment means something in the courts. It is very different than hearsay, which would be a 3rd party saying that he/she overheard a verbal commitment.

        What then becomes difficult to define (sometimes) is the meaning of the verbal commitment. However, that often is true of written contracts: many suits involve both parties interpreting the same words in different ways . That obviously happened here.

        This being written, the Sox really should have gotten the Cubs to concede a particular player on the condition of the Cubs wooing away Theo. I think that they were in such turmoil trying to assign blame for the September collapse that they just were not thinking properly.

        • Frank

          Doc’s right–oral commitments are meaningful in court, and anything negotiated with a value of over $500 is supposed to be in writing. There are also set ways to approach a situation in which contracting parties dispute the meaning of terms. For example, a court will look to the “plain meaning” of the terms, or in the case of ambiguity, the ambiguous terms are interpreted in favor of the party that did not draft the contract. But all that being said–there obviously were no written terms here, ambiguous or otherwise. You’re right, the Sox should have negotiated a particular player as compensation, and theirs probably was a knee-jerk reaction to their collapse, but part of the problem too, is that MLB forced their hand by allowing Theo to leave earlier than Boston may have liked.

          • DocWimsey

            To an extent, having the Cubs take Theo away this quickly after the September collapse is sort of like having that guy you always considered to be a total loser steal your dream-girlfriend away right after you’ve been fired.

            So, small wonder that the Sox are a little irrational about things!

        • Toosh

          I stand by what I stated earlier. Had this situation been resolved in a court of law, precedent would have been the overriding evidence.

          • Frank

            Given the circumstances as we know them–and the problem is that we don’t know everything relevant–you could be right. The interesting thing would be how a court would weigh the precedent versus the contract terms, insofar as such terms could even be determined. Precedent would be very important, no doubt, but the whole point of contract law is to allow parties to “create their own law”–that is, an agreement outside of past precedent. The question would be whether a contract was even formed–if so, contract terms, insofar as they’re legal, win over historical precedent, as I understand things. If not, precedent likely wins.

  • rbreeze

    We’ll never hear the whole story especially since it all started at the highest levels for both teams.  Both owners are embarrassed no doubt.  Henry should have told Ricketts from the start, that he could talk to Epstein but its going to cost you X in the end if you get him.  X = a top 25 major league rostered player or whatever price Henry had in mind. 

    I like everything going on at Cubs camp so far.  The air around that team isn’t as stale as it has been for a long time.

  • Ivy Walls

    Been there. Owners who negotiate without faithful detail minded lieutenants screw up, often. They are big bullet (powerpoint think) minds, The idea of significant compensation (the consensus opinion) meant much to both parties….

    To Boston it meant MLB level, even star (i.e Castro)

    To Chicago, it meant more than McPhail as in two wing and a prayer minor league prospects, (i.e. probably Jay Jackson or similar.)

    So the deal moved up a bit from the Cubs where the RedSox more than a wing and a prayer, a serviceable reliever with a cannon that shoots very straight but without aim, plus a customary trade of wings and prayers to satisfy MLB rules.

  • JR Cubs

    Screw Luccino and Henry.. The Red Sox are idiots for letting Theo interview without compensation settled if they really wanted an mlb star. Why in the hell would the Sox think the Cubs would give up something decent when they already had Theo on their payroll? That is just flat out stupid and naive.. Plus wasn’t it pretty much assumed Theo was not coming back there anyways after his contract? The Cubs saved them from paying a year of a lame duck GM.

    • Frank


  • truebluecubbie

    They would have been happier with Soriano.

  • Canadian Cubs Fan

    Lucchino sounded pretty diplomatic from the quotes above. Brett, I understand what you’re saying about us needing a villain, but I’m pretty sure Lucchino is a super-dooooosh. And really, I’m glad he is, because if he was a super nice guy and easy to work with, Theo might never have felt as inclined to find greener (or at least different) pastures.

  • die hard

    Interesting post-mortem. However, the comments dont put to rest the rumors that Theo was on the chopping block. If he was, then when Mr. Ricketts approached with his interest, the Bosox were probably jumping for joy that they could get something out of this and thus did not listen carefully to what Mr. Ricketts was asking as to Theo’s availability. If Mr. Ricketts knew that Theo was going to be let go, he probably felt that just taking over his contract was compensation enough and it never occurred to him that a player or anything else was necessary. If all of this is how it transpired, there lacked a meeting of the minds and a mutual understanding as to the material fact of compensation or not. What is most troubling is that executives over billion dollar enterprises can fail to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. One would expect more from them. We shouldnt feel sorry for them though as they are able to afford whatever it costs.

    • TWC

      “…the comments dont put to rest the rumors that Theo was on the chopping block.”

      Of course, the only place those rumors exist is in your head, die hard.

  • RK

    I am concerned with the quote “I think the Commissioner’s Office feels the Cubs are disappointed. They didn’t want to lose Chris Carpenter and another player who is going to be named later”

    I had hoped that the 2 ptbnl were going to be similar players, maybe not..

    • Andrew

      I think thats just Henry trying to make it look like he got a better deal than he actually did.