Chess game continues in Epstein saga

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
4:54
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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A game of chess continues between Theo Epstein, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

Boston ownership, led by owner John Henry and president Larry Lucchino, voiced displeasure with information getting out that the Cubs had asked to interview Epstein for an executive position in the Cubs organization.

[+] EnlargeTheo Epstein and John Henry
Junko Kimura/Getty ImagesTheo Epstein, right, has the support of owner John Henry, left, but the Red Sox GM has had his differences with president Larry Lucchino.
"Those things are supposed to be kept private," Lucchino said Friday on the "Dennis and Callahan Show" on WEEI in Boston. "Our position on that is we don't comment or release these things publicly. There are some privacy considerations here that are constant with our policy and practice, and that has been not to discuss requests."

Lucchino and Henry talked about Epstein's future with the organization for the first time since the Boston Globe reported the Cubs had asked to talk to the Red Sox general manager.

The descrepancy here is that the Red Sox are adamant that they did not let the information out about Epstein, and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts is also on record saying they were not going to talk publicly about their GM search. Therefore the assumption is that Epstein is the one who leaked the information to establish his position and force the Red Sox's hand to either re-sign him past the one year remaining on his contract or let him go.

This was not necessarily a bad a move by Epstein, if he did let the information out. After firing manager Terry Francona, Epstein would be the next one in line for the blame game. With one year remaining on his contract, there is no way he would want to be a lame duck GM. If Epstein can come back to the Red Sox with a Cubs offer and an expanded role as top baseball executive, he may be able to gain some leverage in his position with Boston as well as an extension.

"There's a certain protocol in this game if someone asks to interview somebody that is not just a lateral move," Henry said.

That comment could be construed that the Cubs have offered a higher title to Epstein, and if that is true the Red Sox have no choice but to let him interview. In this instance it's important to focus on the relationship between Epstein and Lucchino. Both have the respect and support of Henry and co-owner Tom Werner. Epstein and Lucchino have had a professional relationship that has resulted in two world championships and an average of 92 wins a year since Epstein became GM.

However, major league sources say there are many disagreements between the two. Lucchino is known as a powerful leader who has a tendency to micro-manage other areas of the team. It's unlikely that Red Sox ownership is going to take away any of Lucchino's power to give Epstein a stronger base in the organization. However many people within the Red Sox organization are loyal to Epstein.

Both executives admitted that on at least one other occasion another team tried to speak to Epstein.

"We've gotten requests [about our people] every year," Lucchino said. "And a few years ago we got a request on Theo Epstein. In the past we have done both [said yes and no]."

Epstein is not afraid to play hard ball with upper management. Friends say that money is not a driving force for him and that principle is much more a concern. He proved that by stepping away as GM for three months in 2005 before agreeing to a long-term contract to stay with Boston.

If Epstein does leave for a new job with the Cubs, the consensus is that Boston's assistant GM Ben Cherington will get a promotion. Lucchino and Henry were careful to use Cherington's name on more than one occasion during the radio interview, referring to a team decision that is made on all important issues.

In the event Epstein gets a position above GM with the Cubs, compensation in some form will probably be asked. The Cubs should not consider moving anything more than a minor league prospect for their new top baseball executive. Giving up a major league player such as Starlin Castro or top prospect Brett Jackson would not be very smart unless Epstein can also play shortstop.

The addition of Epstein would be a breath of fresh air for the Cubs. If they are not able to sign him, the whole process could take a somewhat negative turn as they move toward interviewing other candidates.

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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