Theo Epstein’s real value to the Chicago Cubs
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It’s been nearly three months now since Theo Epstein agreed to the terms of a five-year deal that made him the new president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs. In order to officially complete the deal, Epstein’s former team, the Boston Red Sox, was to receive compensation from his new team, the Cubs, in return for allowing Epstein to forgo the final year of his former contract.
Despite a deadline issued directly from MLB commissioner Bud Selig – originally set for Nov. 1 before being extended indefinitely – the two sides still have yet to agree on just what that compensation will be. The circumstances make for a very interesting situation between the two organizations.
Remember, the two sides are having trouble coming to terms on the trade that is basically completed already. After all, Epstein has spent the last few months in Chicago working for the Cubs and Ben Cherington has since assumed his vacated position in Boston.
Interestingly enough, the Red Sox must sit down with Epstein and argue just how valuable they believe he was as a GM in order to get as much compensation as possible – this coming after they essentially allowed him to walk out the door and take his talents to Chicago.
Epstein, on the other hand, is actually in a role that requires him to denounce his own worth in an attempt to surrender as little as possible from his new pool of resources in Chicago – this coming after his new bosses made him the highest paid front office personnel in Major League Baseball.
Given such an unusual framework for negotiations, it’s almost impossible to declare one or the other as having any actual leverage in the matter. It’s not surprising, actually, because the unfortunate truth is there really is no precedent for this type of situation.
Ultimately, the question is: What is losing a general manager really worth?
The answer, which provides little help in this case, is it’s completely circumstantial.
Typically, in these deals, the compensation consists of a low-grade, minor-league prospect or two, maybe with a couple thousand dollars included. That being said, the Red Sox initially opened negotiations by requesting ace pitcher Matt Garza.
Granted, that proposal was quickly scoffed at. Though it does give you an idea about the uniqueness of this situation the Cubs and Red Sox are in – that Boston would even think to ask for a premier player in return for someone who will never even step on the field.
I, myself, am not entirely sure that Boston asking for Garza was really that off-base. As a Red Sox fan, I understand I can be a little bias in this regard. Yet, the way Epstein has shined in his first few months with Chicago makes me think that just maybe Garza is a realistic return.
I witnessed Epstein’s entire tenure with the Red Sox. I saw what went on prior to his arrival and I see what’s happening so far without him. A lot of times, simply due to the nature of Boston’s media, Epstein’s mistakes largely overshadowed his positive contributions to the organization.
For instance, people will always remember Epstein for making the unfortunate signings of guys like Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, Daisuke Matsuzaka and, inevitably, John Lackey. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of those same people will note that he was also responsible for acquiring guys like David Ortiz, Curt Schilling and Adrian Gonzalez – as well as building much of the current roster through drafting and internal development.
Trust me when I say there’s no way the Red Sox would be regarded as the premier franchise they are now without the work of Epstein. He altered the entire dynamic of management. He changed the culture of the Red Sox. His positive impact will remain in Boston for years, even after his departure.
It’s difficult to put a tangible worth on that, as the Cubs and Red Sox are currently attempting to do.
Besides, who’s to say that Theo will bring the same level of success he had with Boston to his new home at Wrigley Field?
When I first heard Epstein was leaving for Chicago, even I had my doubts he could find a way to turn the franchise into a contender as quickly as most hoped. After all, he was being handed a roster comprised of names like Carlos Zambrano, Marlon Byrd and, worst of all, Alfonso Soriano – all of who earn more money in a month than they really ought to make in an entire year.
However, in the last couple of months, Epstein has headed a quietly productive offseason in Chicago. One of Epstein’s key acquisitions was hiring a familiar face in his former assistant GM with the Red Sox, Jed Hoyer, who was the GM with the San Diego Padres before taking on the same role with the Cubs. Genius. Epstein brings not only a guy he trusts to run the team, but a guy who brings immediate value in orchestrating a key trade (see below) to land a top prospect from his former team.
The Epstein-Hoyer combo then got down to work and made a couple of value-oriented acquisitions.
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