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.”
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