McAdam: Who has leverage - Cubs or Sox?

McAdam: Who has leverage - Cubs or Sox?
October 16, 2011, 12:12 am

When Theo Epstein reached an agreement to become head of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs earlier this week, it seemed that the final step -- determining compensation for the Red Sox -- would be relatively simple.

Not so fast.

Multiple reports have the teams at a standstill in negotiations, with reports of the talks turning "contentious,'' and no solution in sight.

Both sides, apparently, believe they have the upper hand when it comes to leverage.

Here's the Cubs' perspective:

They've already received permission from the Red Sox to speak with Epstein about the position. Moreover, Epstein, with a year remaining on his contract with the Red Sox, had interest enough to speak with owner Tom Ricketts, then accepted the position.

At the Red Sox' insistence, the Cubs have already absorbed a 3.5 million "conclusion bonus'' that the Sox were set to owe Epstein at the end of his deal.

By allowing Epstein to interview in the first place, the Sox effectively sent a signal to the Cubs that they were willing to let Epstein go, even as principal owner John Henry continues to lament Epstein's near-departure.

Not without reason, the Cubs believe they have the leverage. After being given permission to talk to Epstein and agreeing to absorb the cost of the conclusion bonus, the Cubs know that things are too far along to stop now.

If the Cubs dig in their heels and refuse to meet the Red Sox' demands on player compensation, Epstein isn't about to return as GM of the Sox. Such a scenario would mean the Red Sox would be paying (a presumably unhappy) Epstein some 7.5 million dollars to either serve as a lame-duck GM, or, perhaps, not work at all and take the year off, while collecting the single biggest payday a baseball general manager has ever earned.

The Cubs surely believe they can wait out Red Sox ownership in this stare down. It's already been established that Epstein doesn't want to remain in Boston and it's just as likely that CEOPresident Larry Lucchino doesn't wish Epstein to remain.

Currently, the Cubs have a manager in place -- though one who is unlikely to remain on the job if the deal for Epstein goes through -- and new head of baseball oprerations who's agreed to a deal.

The Red Sox, conversely, have no manager, a GM who has agreed to a contract elsewhere and a managerial search that, for now, must remain on hold.

If you're the Cubs, you can afford to wait.

Here's the Red Sox perspective:

When Ricketts began his search for the executive to turn around his franchise, he reportedly had a list which included Brian Cashman, Billy Beane, Andrew Friedman, and, of course, Epstein, with the latter his clear first choice.

After two face-to-face meetings with Ricketts, and with the permission of his current employer, Epstein agreed to take the job.

For the past week, Epstein's pending arrival in Wrigleyville had captivated Cubs fans who view him as a baseball savior, capable of delivering the championship that has eluded the franchise for better than a century.

Now that the clubs are at a standstill on the matter of compensation, what's Ricketts going to do: tell his long-suffering fan base that Epstein isn't coming after all because the team refused to part with a minor leaguer or two? Hardly.

For many Cubs fans, starved for a title, there's little they wouldn't sacrifice in order to improve their chances of winning. Surely, they're not worried about losing a Double A or Triple A prospect if the return is a World Series.

Precedent is on the Red Sox' side, too. Just last month, Ozzie Guillen left the Chicago White Sox (also with a year remaining on his deal) to become manager of the Florida Marlins.

In exchange, the Marlins surrendered -- without much of a fight -- two of their Top 10 prospects.

If Guillen, who managed the White Sox to a championship in 2005 but qualified for the postseason just one other season in his eight years in the dugout, can command two top prospects, why wouldn't Epstein -- whose tracked record includes two World Series titles and two other trips to the ALCS -- be worth at least that much in terms of compensation?

Surely, the man charged with overseeing an entire Baseball Operations department -- trades, free agent signings, the amateur draft, international free agents, hiring scouts, managers and a coaching staff -- is of more importance (and thus, more valuable) than a manager.

The Red Sox also have a ready-made replacement for Epstein in assistant GM Ben Cherington. They don't have to embark on a lengthy, time-consuming search for Epstein's replacement.

If you're the Red Sox, you can afford to wait.

And so, with both teams emboldened by their own perceived leverage, we all wait.