Theo Epstein quits Red Sox, joins Cubs
The worst-kept secret in baseball is finally, officially out in the open. The Red Sox and Cubs issued a joint statement Friday night announcing Theo Epstein has resigned from his post as Boston's general manager to become the Cubs' president of baseball operations.
The move is "effective immediately," according to the statement. The teams won't hold news conferences until Tuesday, the next off day in the World Series, when the Cubs will presumably introduce Epstein in Chicago. Major League Baseball generally prohibits announcements during the World Series, but Friday is a day off between Games 2 and 3 between the Cardinals and Rangers.
A source told ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes that Red Sox assistant GM Ben Cherington will be named Epstein's successor. Boston, which collapsed in September and missed the playoffs for a second straight year, must find a manager to replace Terry Francona.
Epstein's deal has been held up for more than a week as the teams haggled over compensation the Red Sox would receive for letting Epstein out of his contract. Those negotiations continue even as Epstein leaves his hometown Red Sox. According to the joint statement, the teams "have reached an agreement regarding a process by which appropriate compensation will be determined for the Red Sox and that issue will be resolved in the near term."
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The Red Sox aimed high in asking for compensation for Epstein. A baseball source told ESPNBoston.com they initially asked for the Cubs shortstop, Starlin Castro. When they were rebuffed, the Red Sox asked for Cubs starting pitcher Matt Garza.
A major league source told ESPNChicago.com that at one point Boston proposed that the Cubs take pitcher John Lackey's contract. Lackey has three seasons remaining on an $82.5 million deal. He was 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA in 28 starts for the Red Sox in 2011.
But the expected agreement will include Cubs minor leaguers, although not top prospects Brett Jackson, Trey McNutt or Matt Szczur, the source said. Cash will not be part of the compensation.
What is clear is that Jed Hoyer will be Epstein's general manager in Chicago. A baseball source told ESPNBoston.com that the current Padres GM would be granted permission to leave when San Diego promotes senior vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes to vice president/GM. Byrnes was GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks when Padres owner Jeff Moorad was part-owner of that team. Sources said Moorad has wanted Byrnes to return to the job, even though he respected Hoyer, whom he hired in 2010.
A source told ESPNBoston.com that Epstein asked Byrnes to join him in Chicago, but Byrnes declined. Epstein then turned to Hoyer, his longtime friend and former assistant. Hoyer went to Moorad, told him of the offer from Epstein and said he would stay if the Padres gave him a five-year extension. Moorad, though reluctant to lose Hoyer, the source said, said he would not grant him the extension and told him he was free to take the Cubs' job.
In another Cubs staffing development, ESPNBoston.com has confirmed that Padres assistant GM Jason McLeod will also join Epstein and Hoyer in Chicago.
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There would be no compensation for Hoyer, a source told ESPNChicago.com and ESPNBoston.com.
Byrnes and Hoyer worked with Epstein in Boston. Hoyer took over as Padres GM in 2010 after Kevin Towers was fired. McLeod worked for the Red Sox in the scouting department for seven years before going to the Padres. One remaining piece missing from Epstein's original team of key advisors is Red Sox special assistant Dave Finley, who could also be in play for Epstein in Chicago.
The 37-year-old Epstein resigned with a year remaining on his contract as Red Sox general manager to run a team that has gone 103 years without a World Series championship. He will reportedly receive a five-year deal worth about $18.5 million to overhaul the baseball side of the Cubs' front office.
With Epstein at the helm, the Red Sox ended an 86-year World Series championship drought in 2004 and won the title again in 2007.
Cubs fans can only hope he will do the same thing on the North Side. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts fired GM Jim Hendry in July after another disappointing season.
One of Epstein's first chores in Chicago is the future of manager Mike Quade, who led the team to a 71-91 record in his first full season. He has another year left on his deal.
Epstein brings a sparkling résumé with him. He was hired as the youngest GM in major league history in 2002 at the age of 28 and, two years later, was the youngest GM to win it all as the Red Sox broke a long championship drought, not unlike the misery Cubs fans have famously endured.
Under Epstein's guidance, Boston went 839-619 (.575) in the regular season and 34-23 in the playoffs, winning more than 90 games in all but two seasons.
He acquired stars such as David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Jason Bay and Adrian Gonzalez, though he also will be remembered for bringing in high-priced players who fell short, including Edgar Renteria, Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey. This season it was Carl Crawford who didn't meet expectations after signing a big contract.
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He was also the guy who traded fan favorite Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs in a four-team deal in 2004 -- sending him to Hendry, who watched Chicago blow the wild-card lead in the final week that season.
Epstein himself presided over two of the biggest meltdowns in baseball history, the 2003 ALCS loss to the Yankees and last month's disaster in which the Red Sox blew a nine-game lead in 25 days and failed to make the playoffs. No team had ever done that before.
While the Red Sox pick up the pieces of a collapse that includes reports of locker room disharmony and the departure of Francona, Epstein will have a long list of things to do in Chicago.
Ricketts wanted to make sure he got the right guy, someone who will build through a farm system and combine scouting with baseball's new formulas and math for statistical analysis.
As they try to build for the future a big question for Ricketts and Epstein: Do they also go out and spend another big amount on a marquee free agent such as Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder who could make the Cubs instant contenders to snap the championship drought dating to 1908?
Matsuzaka cost $103 million, Renteria got $40 million for four years but lasted one and J.D. Drew got a five-year, $70 million deal most thought was too much. Everyone is waiting to see if Crawford is worth his seven-year, $142 million deal.
When it worked, the Red Sox were the best team money could buy; when it didn't, like this season, they were overpaid malcontents who couldn't hold a clubhouse together.
There are similarities in Chicago.
Hendry went on a $300 million spree before the 2007 season and the Cubs won two straight division titles under manager Lou Piniella before being swept in the first round both seasons.
The past two seasons have bottomed out -- Piniella abruptly retired in August 2010 -- and the Cubs have been stuck with big contracts like the ones for Carlos Zambrano (five years, $91.5 million) and Alfonso Soriano (eight years, $136 million).
Zambrano is likely gone with a year left on his contract. Known increasingly for his outbursts, he gave up five homers to Atlanta in August and cleared out his locker, winding up with a 30-day suspension and never pitching another game before the end of the season.
Epstein has a potential ace in Matt Garza, who went 10-10 this season and was effective against the Red Sox while pitching for Tampa Bay. Young Andrew Cashner won a spot in the rotation but missed most of last season with an arm problem and veterans Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells are expected to return.
The Cubs have a struggling closer in Carlos Marmol, who after signing a three-year, $20 million contract in spring training, blew 10 saves in 44 chances.
First baseman Carlos Pena, a free agent who hit 28 homers with 80 RBIs and a .225 average, would like to come back. Aramis Ramirez, who hit .306 with 26 homers and 93 RBIs, said he plans to explore the free agent market, though there is a mutual $16 million option on the table. Soriano, who has three years remaining on his deal, batted .244 but did hit 26 homers with 88 RBIs.
Chicago does have plenty of promise up the middle with 21-year-old shortstop Castro, who had 207 hits in his first full major league season, and second baseman Darwin Barney.
Still, the Cubs finished 71-91 and once Hendry was gone, talked turned to someone -- anyone -- who might be able to bring the team back to the postseason and erase the endless talk of the purported Billy Goat curse of 1945 and the Steve Bartman foul ball debacle in Game 6 of the NLCS in 2003.
A native of Brookline, Mass., who grew up down the street from Fenway Park, Epstein left the team once before, in 2005, fleeing Fenway Park in a gorilla suit on Halloween after a tiff over his contract extension went public. He resigned and stayed away from the team for several months before returning to his old job.
Information from ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes, ESPNChicago.com's Bruce Levine and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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