By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
The exodus from Fenway Park could be far from over.
Days after Terry Francona parted ways with the Red Sox, the Sox are at risk of losing their general manager, Theo Epstein, too.
The Chicago Cubs contacted the Red Sox Tuesday to ask for permission to speak with Epstein about their GM vacancy, a baseball source confirmed. Another National League source confirmed Tuesday that Epstein is, indeed, owner Tom Ricketts's top choice to take over the Cubs, over other names thought to be on his initial list, including Billy Beane of the Oakland A's, Andrew Friedman of the Tampa Bay Rays and Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees.
Industry sources indicate the Red Sox are more likely than not to grant the Cubs permission.
Epstein has a year remaining on his contract. It's unknown whether the Red Sox will seek compensation should Epstein leave the Sox for the Cubs.
The Cubs' request was first reported by the Boston Globe.
Epstein has long told friends he doesn't intend to be general manager of the Red Sox forever and would, in time, welcome a new challenge.
Despite growing up in Brookline, Epstein would be open to moving out of the area and running another franchise.
At the same time, Epstein feels a deep loyalty to Red Sox ownership, and principal owner John Henry in particular, and would have reservations about leaving the team in its current state.
The Sox imploded in September and blew a nine-game lead for the American League wild-card spot to Tampa Bay on the final night of the season.
The team's downward spiral resulted in manager Terry Francona leaving the organization after eight seasons. Francona met with ownership Friday, when it was decided that he wouldn't return for team options for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
The Sox have failed to qualify for the postseasons two years running, and those close to Epstein say he feels a certain responsibility to ownership to get the franchise turned around before leaving.
However, the appeal of running the Cubs may be a powerful lure. Chicago hasn't won a World Series since 1908 and hasn't won so much as a pennant since 1945.
Moreover, Henry feels a reciprocal loyalty to Epstein, and though his clear preference would be to have Epstein remain with the Red Sox for a long time, he would not stand in the way if Epstein indicated a willingness to listen to what the Cubs have to say.
A baseball source Tuesday dismissed any suggestion that Epstein could be convinced to stay with a new title or increased responsibilities within the Red Sox organization.
Epstein left the Red Sox for a period of three months after 2005 for, among other reasons, clashes with team president and CEO Larry Lucchino and a feeling that the team's business interests had become more important than putting a winning product on the field.
The relationship between Epstein and Lucchino isn't perfect, a source said, but it's no longer untenable and would not be a factor in Epstein seeking other opportunities outside the organization.
If Epstein were to direct both the Red Sox and Cubs to World Series titles, his place in baseball history would be assured, having ended two of the sport's longest championship droughts.