In a two-team baseball town like Chicago, there are always going to be sports columnists who are fifth columnists with respect to one or the other team. Last week, Phil Rogers sided with Boston on the question of how much compensation the Cubs owe the Red Sox.
There would be howls all around if Jackson went to Boston, but consider what ESPN’s Keith Law thinks of a guy who is widely regarded as the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect. He sees Jackson as a reasonable part of this exchange.
“If you think Theo is going to turn this organization around, (wouldn’t you) give up six years of a non-star prospect?” Law said in an ESPN.com chat, answering a question with a question.
I’m with Law on this one. Epstein and the front office that he will assemble for Ricketts — along with Ricketts’ understanding that you have to spend heavily on teenage players to grow your own stars — should be a game-changing shift for a franchise that has been patching things together annually since Dallas Green left.
No one should think the Cubs are going to get Epstein without some labor pains. Jackson could be the biggest of those pains.
Rogers is an old Sox fan. I mean he’s an old White Sox fan, but red or white, it comes to the same thing, in that he doesn’t have the Cubs’ best interest at heart. And here is David Haugh yesterday in a piece that originated in the Trib but was picked up quickly by the Boston Herald:
Promising minor league center fielder Brett Jackson – not to be confused with Bo – could be a Cubs fixture for the next 10 years. Or become this decade’s Corey Patterson. Go ahead and call Jackson a “five-tool player,” but please don’t call him a deal-breaker.
Sure, young right-hander Andrew Cashner might be three years from making the All-Star team. Or the modern-day Mark Prior could be 40 innings away from shoulder surgery too. If the Red Sox and their medical team demanded Cashner in exchange for Epstein, they might consider asking for an MRI machine too.
Likewise the Cubs would be nutty to put the future of 21-year-old Double-A pitcher Trey McNutt or any other hotshot prospect such as Josh Vitters ahead of their own with Epstein.
Haugh is a former Sox beat writer who has never traveled with the Cubs. Not that I don’t trust him, but just for balance maybe we could have the Trib and the Boston Herald solicit the opinion of a Yankee beat writer on what sort of compensation Boston deserves?
I can’t blame Nick Cafardo for carrying water for the home team when he covers the Epstein negotiations in the Boston Globe. Here is Cafardo this morning:
The Sox have come hard at the Cubs for even an established player such as righthander Matt Garza. Given the
anger of fans toward Sox ownership over the 7-20 September collapse, the team needs to come away with
something of significance for Epstein.
The Cubs are on the hook for Boston’s September collapse? A Cub loyalist–and I wish there were more of those in the Chicago press corps–might point out, as a topic worthy of a closer look in Boston, the power struggle between Epstein and Larry Lucchino. Something like the following exchange must have occurred in the months that preceded any contact between Epstein and the Cubs.
Epstein: Make me the top baseball man in the organization. I have earned that position.
John Henry: No, we’re staying with Larry.
Epstein: Let me go, then.
They couldn’t promote Epstein, so they lost him. Nothing to do with the Cubs.
The question of what Theo Epstein is worth to the Cubs in terms of prospects is the wrong question. The Red Sox could have kept Epstein, all they had to do was make room for him. They chose not to. Rather than trying to explain that potentially unpopular decision to fans, they resorted to the old baseball stratagem of disguising a bad management outcome as a trade. “Theo wanted out, so we traded him.” When the Cubs rid themselves of Fukudome in early August, reports were that the Indians would only have to pay $750 thousand of Fukudome’s remaining contract, implying that the Cubs would still be responsible for $3.925 million, or 84%. I haven’t seen that $3.925 million number printed anywhere, nor the 84%, probably because the Cubs asked for a player in return and in so doing caused everyone looking at the “trade” to take his eye off the ball. The Cubs received a talented 21-year-old, Abner Abreu, who at that point had to be considered a failed prospect. Failed or not, Abreu distracted Cub fans and media from the awkward fact that the Cubs were paying Fukudome to play somewhere else.
The Cubs today are only required to follow the script and to distract Red Sox fans and media momentarily from the underlying truth that it’s Lucchino’s team now.
Note, by the way, that two months of Fukudome is worth more in baseball money than a year-and-a-half of Epstein. Brett Jackson is worth considerably more to the Cubs than Fukudome.
An obviously false report surfaced yesterday that could have a kernel of truth to it. SI’s Jon Heyman wrote:
In a possible surprise twist, the Chicago Cubs and Theo Epstein are said to have interest in Padres general manager Jed Hoyer to join a baseball operations department they hope is headed soon by Epstein, who is waiting in limbo while the Cubs and Red Sox resolve the compensation issue to complete the trade that would put Epstein in charge of Chicago’s beloved North Side team.
It’s uncertain how the Padres would react to the Cubs interest in Hoyer but if he is able to go to Chicago, Josh Byrnes, who has been working as VP of baseball operations in San Diego, would be elevated to GM.
A move by Hoyer, 37, would be seen as fairly shocking since he’s already a GM, but perhaps the Cubs could give him the same title, while making Epstein a president. Nothing is known to be finalized yet, and it could still be Byrnes going to Chicago, but the possibility that it could be Hoyer instead was raised by several people familiar with the talks.
Epstein is in Boston working for the Sox and cannot be reaching out to Hoyer about a Cub job, particularly a job that makes no sense because it is worse than lateral for Hoyer, in that he would go from being the top baseball man in San Diego to being number two in Chicago. If someone on the Cubs is talking to Hoyer or asking for permission to talk to him, it is not Epstein. If it is not Epstein, it is instead of Epstein. In other words, the Cubs are preparing to move on. At a minimum, they are testing the water in San Diego to see how another team with a GM under contract might handle the question of compensation.
Half of me hopes the Cubs do move on. The other half of me hopes the Red Sox come to their senses. None of me hopes that the Cubs listen to the counsel of the fifth columnists at the Tribune.
Edit: The Hoyer rumor is getting hot. Bruce Levine reports this afternoon that league sources confirm that Hoyer may be headed to the Cubs. Levine also talks about a close personal relationship between Tom Ricketts and Padres co-owner Jeff Moorad. No one seems to be contesting the idea that Hoyer will work under Epstein.
If the foregoing is true, it becomes even clearer that Boston is overplaying its hand. Tom Ricketts may be better at this game than we dared to hope. While the Red Sox talk tough through their media allies, they can do nothing to prevent a key member of Epstein’s team from hitting the ground in Chicago.