It took months of protracted negotiations, threats from the Commissioner’s Office, pokes and prods from the Commissioner’s Office, and a media firestorm for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox to finally agree on the appropriate compensation due the Red Sox for the Cubs hiring Theo Epstein. The sides concluded that, in addition to PTBNLs (from the Cubs, it was relief prospect Aaron Kurcz; the Red Sox’s piece is yet to be chosen), the Red Sox would be given reliever Chris Carpenter, at the time thought to be an important part of the Cubs’ bullpen.
It was an annoying un-fun story to cover, and irked Cubs fans more than it intrigued them. I called it the Cubs’ version of the NeverEnding Story.
Well, here’s the thing about “never-ending stories”: they don’t end. And, no, I’m not talking about minor leaguer yet to be sent to the Cubs.
Yesterday, Carpenter revealed that he’s headed to see Dr. James Andrews so that he can have surgery on his pitching elbow, which has apparently been giving him problems this Spring (during which he’s only been able to throw two game innings). How serious is Carpenter’s injury? Well, serious enough to have a surgery to remove bone spurs, which is probably going to keep him out a few months.
Bone spurs are not an uncommon development in a pitcher’s elbow, but they don’t always require surgery. When they do, it’s an arthroscopic procedure to remove them, and – after some Googling, I can say – it’s typically a two to four month recovery process. But, sometimes, it’s much worse. As a total coincidence, you know who previously had bone spurs removed, and we can thus use as a guide for projecting Chris Carpenter’s return? Chris Carpenter. Like, the other one. The Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter had bone spurs removed in early May of 2007 after throwing just one game to start the year. He was doing the rehab start thing by mid-July, but after a couple setbacks, he ended up having Tommy John surgery (which can follow bone spur issues (the latter can be a precursor to UCL problems), and, though he appeared in a few games in 2008, he wasn’t fully back until the 2009 season. Chris Carpenter – the Red Sox’s one – has already had Tommy John surgery once in his career, for what it’s worth.
So, we know that the injury is not, by itself, extremely serious, but it’s also not a cold, and it could lead to some very serious issues. Are the Red Sox pissed? Are they going to do anything about it?
GM Ben Cherington wouldn’t say, one way or the other. You read into a “no comment” at your own peril, but if it was totally obvious that the surgery would have no impact on the Cubs/Red Sox compensation agreement, wouldn’t Cherington say so?
So what could that “impact” be? It still could be nothing. Because the decision on surgery just happened, the Red Sox could simply be investigating their options – who knew what when? Do we have a recourse? Did we make the trade conditional on anything like Carpenter’s long-term health? Can we change the player going back to the Cubs now? And so on, and so on.
The key facts here are pretty basic: Did the Cubs know – or have reason to know – about Chris Carpenter’s bone spurs prior to the trade? Are bone spurs the kind of thing the Cubs would have had to disclose to the Red Sox prior to a trade? Are bone spurs the kind of thing that are expected to be discovered by a routine physical, conducted prior to completing a trade? Did the Red Sox know – or have reason to know – about Chris Carpenter’s bone spurs prior to the trade?
In reverse order, if the answer to either of the last two questions is yes, I have a hard time seeing the Cubs on the hook here. Where the Red Sox should have, themselves, discovered the issue (or knew about it), it’s tough noogies. If the last two answers are no, and the first two answers are yes, the Cubs could have a problem. That problem could be as little as some monetary compensation or an additional player going to the Red Sox, or as major as the entire trade being voided, and the two sides once again go back to the drawing board.
I don’t think that latter outcome is likely, but, we have to be honest with ourselves: there’s very little we know at this point.
The saber-rattling in the Boston media has already begun, with Dan Duggan of the Boston Herald saying the two sides may need to revisit the compensation trade, and the guys on WEEI radio saying Theo Epstein screwed the Red Sox once again (per BN’er Cliffy).
Until someone says something definitive, you can expect to feel a little nervous about this. I do.
UPDATE: A positive report from maybe an unlikely source – Nick Cafardo of the Boston Glove – puts my mind at ease. As if responding to the precise points in this post, Cafardo writes:
The Red Sox had complete access to Chris Carpenter’s medical records, the pitcher had passed both his Cubs physical and also his Red Sox physical after he was dealt to the Red Sox as compensation for Theo Epstein, according to a source familiar with the situation.
The Red Sox will likely not receive a different player from the Cubs because everything was up front and out in the open.
Cafardo says the Red Sox knew there was risk when they took Carpenter, but he was the guy Cherington wanted.
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