When the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox jointly announced late Friday night that Theo Epstein had been allowed to resign as general manager of the Red Sox so that he could officially be hired as the president of baseball operations for the Cubs, I experienced two distinct feelings of joy. First, there was the plain joy associated with the Cubs landing one of the best executives in baseball to lead a revolution in the Cubs’ front office. The deal wasn’t falling through, it was really happening.
But there was a secondary joy: no more tirelessly waiting with my computer attached to my fingers for a decision on what compensation the Cubs were going to send to the Red Sox to get the deal done. That, alone, was worth a couple little squeals.
That said, the compensation has not yet been decided. The two sides agreed to the parameters of a compensation agreement in the interests of moving on (with prodding from MLB), so, although we’re still waiting, the drama is considerably tempered.
Epstein, himself, is expected to take over the negotiations with soon-to-be Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. As an outsider to the organization, it’s fair to hope that Epstein will not be as emotionally tied to certain prospects, and will be better able to get the deal done in a timely manner.
If he’s not, Commissioner Bud Selig says he’s ready to step in. Indeed, the Commissioner set a deadline of November 1 for the two sides to come to a resolution.
“They have until Nov. 1, Theo and Ben and all the other parties involved,” Selig said before Game 4 of the World Series yesterday. “Hopefully they can get things done. I always encourage clubs to try to get things done between themselves. Somehow, the commissioner has enough things of controversy [to deal with]. They’ll either get it done or they won’t. If they don’t, then I will.”
A number of people asked me if I thought the Red Sox had lost all of their leverage by agreeing to let Epstein go before the final compensation decision was made. My response has been: I doubt it. Although I’m certain that the Red Sox were pressured by MLB to let Epstein go on Friday, I doubt the Red Sox did so without putting in place an agreement with the Cubs that the compensation would be chosen from list X, or would include, at a minimum, player Y. So, that is to say, the Red Sox lost the ability to screw Epstein, but they didn’t lose the ability to get a good return.
That said, I do believe the longer this drags on, the better things get for the Cubs. There are two reasons: (1) the more distance that gets put between the Red Sox’s disastrous September and early October, the less the Red Sox need a clear “win” in negotiations with the Cubs; and (2) if things get delayed long enough, and Selig does have to make a decision, you can bet he’ll side with the Cubs. As I’ve said before, it isn’t in MLB’s interest to have large market teams able to hoard up-and-coming front office talent under the threat of large compensation demands should another team come along and offer a promotion. Obviously, in this instance, the team on the other side is also a large market team, but MLB is concerned with precedent. It won’t always be the Cubs trying to improve their front office. Some day, it will be the Twins. Or the Royals. Or the Brewers.
The most likely outcome is that Epstein and Cherington will hammer out an agreement sometime later this week,with the Red Sox getting a couple good – but not top five – prospects.