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updated: 10/5/2011 9:33 PM

Epstein just what the Cubs need

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  • In a recent poll by the Boston Globe, more than 55 percent of the respondents said the Red Sox should part ways with general manager Theo Epstein, who helped them win two World Series titles. Epstein also has been criticized for signing bad contracts with John Lackey and Carl Crawford.

      In a recent poll by the Boston Globe, more than 55 percent of the respondents said the Red Sox should part ways with general manager Theo Epstein, who helped them win two World Series titles. Epstein also has been criticized for signing bad contracts with John Lackey and Carl Crawford.
    Associated Press

  • Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein pauses as he speaks to the media during a news conference on Sept. 30 in Boston to announce the team would not pick up the option on Terry Francona's contract.

      Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein pauses as he speaks to the media during a news conference on Sept. 30 in Boston to announce the team would not pick up the option on Terry Francona's contract.
    Associated Press

  • Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, left, speaks as general manager Theo Epstein listens during a news conference at Fenway Park after they were eliminated from participating in the baseball playoffs.

      Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, left, speaks as general manager Theo Epstein listens during a news conference at Fenway Park after they were eliminated from participating in the baseball playoffs.
    Associated Press

 
 

You don't need "major-league sources" to know the Cubs have interest in Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

Of course they do. They'd be foolish not to have interest in Epstein.

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Getting Epstein to Chicago will take some doing. First, he's under Red Sox control through next season. Epstein must first decide he wants to leave the team, and Boston ownership must grant permission for Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts to speak with Epstein.

The Boston Globe reported Tuesday that the Cubs have asked the Red Sox for permission to talk to Epstein about a position in their organization. The Cubs declined comment on the report.

If the Cubs do indeed get permission, what follows is the not-so-little matter of compensation. Just as the White Sox were compensated with players by the Florida Marlins signing manager Ozzie Guillen, the Red Sox will want compensation, and lots of it, for Epstein.

Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe wrote Tuesday that the Red Sox should "ask for the moon" if the Cubs want Epstein.

Carfardo noted that some have suggested the Cubs take disappointing (and expensive) pitcher John Lackey off the Red Sox' hands and that the Red Sox should ask for shortstop Starlin Castro and pitcher Matt Garza, the Cubs' best position player and pitcher, respectively.

Ricketts' remaining baseball people likely will tell him no on those two players, but the Cubs may have to give up some top prospects, and if so the Red Sox no doubt will ask for the likes of Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters and possibly Trey McNutt or Matt Szczur.

For their part, the Cubs would love for someone to take left fielder Alfonso Soriano off their hands. Let's just say that if Epstein does leave Boston, there are plenty of smart people left at Fenway Park.

Despite the reports and rumors, there has been no definitive word out of Boston on Epstein's situation, but the silence since last week's "parting of the ways" with field manager Terry Francona seems telling.

The general manager-field manager relationship is the most important one in a baseball organization, and Epstein and Francona were a tight duo.

With all of that, let's look at some of the dynamics of the case.

Tired of what?

More than one baseball person has said to me over the years: "You know, sometimes they just get tired of you."

Inexplicably, that may be the case with Epstein in Boston, especially with the sting of an epic late-season collapse by the Red Sox still fresh.

A Boston Globe poll I looked at this week had 55.68 percent of respondents in favor of Epstein moving on, leaving 44.32 percent in favor of keeping him.

Talk about short memories.

Epstein is the best general manager in Red Sox history. His teams won World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, with the '04 team breaking a mythical curse that dated to 1918.

If a GM did that in Chicago, every statue-maker in the state of Illinois would be busy for years.

Epstein brought the Boston front office into the modern era, using statistical analysis and hiring bright young assistants.

Sounds like just the recipe for the Cubs.

Winning cures all:

Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry was criticized roundly and justifiably for his big-money-deals-gone-bad, including Soriano's eight-year, $136 million deal, Carlos Zambrano's $91.5 million extension, Milton Bradley's three-year, $30 million contract and Kosuke Fukudome's four-year, $48 million deal.

Ol' Theo has had his share of clunkers, too:

•$76 million for shortstops Julio Lugo and Edgar Renteria;

•Paying $51,111,111.11 to talk with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and giving him a six-year, $52 million contract;

•Five years and $70 million for sometimes-interested outfielder J.D. Drew;

•And lately, five years and $82.5 million for Lackey and seven years and $142 million for Carl Crawford, both of whom just had awful years.

Of course, the big difference between Hendry and Epstein is that Epstein won those two World Series and Hendry's teams came up empty in three playoff runs.

Winning, plus deep pockets, allows you to paper over a lot of mistakes and pretend they didn't happen.

Moneyball?

At the end of the hit movie "Moneyball," there's a seen where Oakland Athletics GM Brad Pitt, er, Billy Beane, is shown meeting with the Red Sox before Epstein took over and was offered the GM job in Boston.

Beane turned down a lucrative offer, and text on the screen noted that the Red Sox won those two world titles using methods Beane developed in Oakland.

As another baseball lifer put it to me, "What the Red Sox do is not 'Moneyball,' not with a bazillion-dollar payroll."

True enough, but what they've done is pretty good.

Now that most teams have caught on to Beane's exploiting of inefficiencies in the marketplace and deciding that things such as on-base percentage and taking walks are important, smart teams need to find other avenues to exploit these inefficiencies.

The Red Sox under Epstein have done that.

In a recent Sports Illustrated article, Epstein said the "next inefficiency" is "keeping pitchers healthy, and it's better drafting."

Teams such as the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays (with hot GM prospect Andrew Friedman, somebody else whose name has come up in connection with the Cubs) have allowed certain free agents to walk away and have stockpiled the compensatory draft picks.

That's the way to build an organization, either for your own use or to trade prospects, such as the Red Sox did to acquire first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego.

What to do?

If you're Tom Ricketts, you seek permission to talk with Epstein and you do what you need to do to get him to Chicago. The sooner, the better.

Epstein will be only 38 come December, and although the Cubs' situation presents an immense challenge, he may need to get out of the Boston pressure cooker.

He's still young, and his ideas are exactly what the Cubs need.

Time to get this done.

•Follow Bruce's Cubs reports via Twitter @BruceMiles2112. Total Access subscribers can check out his Chicago's Inside Pitch blog at dailyherald.com.

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