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FORT MYERS, Fla. – Theo Epstein’s worth to the Boston Red Sox was easy to gauge. A quick glance at the two World Series trophies at Fenway Park settles that.
Determining his value to the Cubs, another title-starved franchise desperately hoping to be saved by the Boy Wonder, turned out to be a much more complicated issue. Turns out the architect of a two-time champion who restored pride to a franchise that had long been known for choking in the biggest moments was worth a 26-year-old reliever and a player to be named later.
The two teams finally announced a deal Tuesday that settles a four-month dispute over what Boston should get as compensation when Epstein left for Chicago. The Cubs sent right-handed reliever Chris Carpenter and a player to be named later to the Red Sox for a player to be named later – and Epstein.
“I guess my name will go down in history,” Carpenter said.
After the Red Sox blew a nine-game lead in the AL East by going 7-20 in the final month of last season, Epstein started to look for a new challenge. He became the Cubs’ president of baseball operations and got a five-year, $18.5 million deal in October.
But completing the deal proved to be much more than a formality as both sides grappled with comparing the skill set of an executive on the suite level with what a player brings on the diamond. The teams were not able to agree on compensation and wound up submitting arguments to commissioner Bud Selig.
“I think it took this long because it was a unique circumstance,” said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who served under Epstein before succeeding him.
“We talk to teams all the time about trades and it’s player-for-player and it’s ... easier to assign value and figure out what’s fair, what’s not fair. In this case it was just tougher because it involved not just an executive but a friend,” Cherington continued.
It had to make for awkward conversations. Would Cherington throw out a name, only to have Epstein say, ‘No, I’m not worth that much?’
“It was just difficult because these things don’t normally happen,” Cherington said with a chuckle. “It’s hard to figure out what was appropriate. In the end both teams compromised and we feel really good about the guy we’re getting and we’re happy it was resolved and we were able to resolve it between the teams without the commissioner getting involved.”
For one deal, at least, Epstein went from talent evaluator to the actual talent being acquired.
“I am relieved that this process is over and particularly pleased that the teams were able to reach agreement on their own without intervention from MLB,” he said in a statement released by the team. “I truly hope and believe that this resolution will benefit both clubs, as well as Chris, who is an extremely talented reliever joining a great organization at a time when there’s some opportunity in the major league bullpen.”
Selig said he was glad he didn’t have to get involved.
“I am pleased that the Cubs and the Red Sox have resolved this matter,” Selig said in a statement. “It has always been my preference that clubs resolve matters like this amongst themselves, as they understand their unique circumstances better than anyone else could. Though the matter required time, both clubs demonstrated professionalism throughout their discussions, and I appreciate their persistence in finding common ground.”
Carpenter was a third-round draft pick by the Cubs in 2008. He made 42 relief appearances between Double-A Tennessee, Triple-A Iowa and the Cubs. He spent four years in the minors before seeing his first major league action last season, when he posted no record and a 2.79 ERA in 10 appearances.
“If you’re going to pick two teams to play for, why not the Cubs and the Red Sox?” Carpenter said. “You can’t complain about that.”
The Red Sox bullpen is in a state of flux and it’s one of new manager Bobby Valentine’s chief concerns this spring. Andrew Bailey was acquired from Oakland in December to replace closer Jonathan Papelbon and setup man Daniel Bard has been moved to the starting rotation. The Red Sox have 36 pitchers in camp, hoping that the numbers will help them bolster the depth of the relief corps.
The Cubs, meanwhile, finally can close the book on their biggest acquisition in years.
“Now we can just move forward with the spring without worrying about the compensation,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said in Mesa, Ariz., at the team’s spring training complex. “Chris is a very good reliever. He’s a difficult guy to lose. I think we all realized we were going to lose something of significant value when Theo came over here, and this doesn’t change that.
“I hope Chris has a lot of success over there. Obviously the Cubs are really excited about the new management team with Theo leading it, so there was a price to be paid for that.”
As for the players to be named later, Hoyer called it a “procedural” thing to meet MLB transaction rules.