Boston’s Epstein Compensation: No Big Deal

So far as Long National Nightmares go, the Theo Epstein Compensation Saga has been neither the longest nor most nightmare-y. However, in terms of handwringing and electronic ink spilt relative to notable developments, it’s been pretty formidable.

And, in fact, despite reports of a resolution late this morning, the matter will remain curiously unresolved even after today. According to the Red Sox official Twitter feed (and the entire rest of the internet), Boston has acquired 26-year-old right-hander Chris Carpenter and a player to be named later from the Cubs in exchange for a different PTBNL.

In terms of the actual value of the deal for either club, Dave Cameron provided the conceptual scaffolding for that conversation back in early October, noting generally that, whatever marginal value Epstein provided over, say, a “freely available” general manager such as White Sox Assistant GM Rick Hahn, it likely wasn’t worth an actual player.

In this case, that actual player is the aforementioned Carpenter, a pitcher with command issues who averaged 96.5 mph on his fastball in a brief major-league stint with the Cubs last season — a player whom our Marc Hulet rated as the Cubs’ 11th-best prospect late in November.

If the story of the Red Sox’ compensation for Epstein has taken on a high profile this offseason, it likely has had less to do with the specific facts of the matter and more with the markets involved. The Red Sox and Cubs very clearly have two of the more interested (and, ahem, vocal) fanbases in the sport. As other stories have come and gone, this one has remained. If the clubs involved were, say, the Royals and Pirates, however, it’s unlikely that it would have been as prevalent in all of our various twitter and RSS feeds.

For the clubs, ultimately, the incentive to resolve the issue promptly never really existed — except for the purposes of public relations, maybe. Both teams are either at (in the case of Boston) or near (in the case of Chicago) capacity on their 40-man rosters. As the Sox were never likely to receive a big haul for Epstein, it makes sense that they’d wait for compensation until such a time as they had a better sense of their 2012 roster, injuries, etc. The pair of PTBNLs even in the current arrangement supports that notion, nor are those last two players likely to be big pieces, either. In the end, apart from the team’s involved, the issue of Epstein’s compensation was no big deal.

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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

35 Responses to “Boston’s Epstein Compensation: No Big Deal”

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  1. KJ says:

    I can’t believe we had to give up Player to Be Named Later for Player to Be Named Later! It’s an outrage!

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  2. Caleb W says:

    Actually, I am a bit surprised that the Sox received even the Cubs’ 11th best prospect. For perspective, Josh Vitters was ranked 12th in November, and I think there would be a lot more buzz if he had changed hands. Carp is old, but he was ranked third among Cubs prospects going into 2011.

    Of course, the PTBNLs going each way may make it more of a wash.

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  3. mcbrown says:

    Oh PTBNL: you are yet another thing that makes baseball great. In what other professional sport could a trade involving a placeholder be announced with a straight face?

    This gets me thinking… has anyone studied the careers of players who were dealt as the PTBNL? Does a list of such players even exist in any useful form? I would be curious to see how many, if any, PTBNL went on to have “successful” MLB careers by any reasonable metric.

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    • Josh says:

      Per wikipedia: some minor league PTBNLs who have turned out to be productive in the majors include Michael Brantley, Jeremy Bonderman, Scott Podsednik, Coco Crisp, Moisés Alou, Jason Schmidt, and David Ortiz.

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    • Dr_Caligari says:

      The most recent PTBNL that I know of who has turned out to be above replacement level in the Majors is Michael Brantley. But there have been a few players (David Ortiz, Moises Alou, and Coco Crisp are the ones that come to mind for me) who have had good careers after being a PTBNL.

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    • Chris in Hawaii says:

      Wasn’t Marco Scutaro a PTBNL at one point?

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    • bender says:

      Sean Rodriguez was a PTBNL and he hasn’t been bad

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    • Steve says:

      I think it depends on the reason the players are a PTBNL. Sometimes, it is a recent draftee that can’t be traded for a year. Those players can become very valuable. The Ubaldo trade was a good example of this.

      Sometimes the players are simply too marginal that the teams don’t worry about the details that might hold up the trade. The teams usually exchange lists, and the recieving team gets to pick their PTBNL. Those players are usually scrubs.

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  4. steex says:

    There is still some hope of this being an interesting transaction – perhaps someone will be traded for himself if the two clubs select their PTBNL at different times.

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  5. MikeS says:

    With two PTBNLs I don’t think we can consider the long national nightmare ended just yet.

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  6. Apsedaler says:

    Chris Carpenter would solve the Red Sox rotation issues… oh wait…

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  7. DodgersFan says:

    I can’t wait to trade organizational filler for Andrew Friedman.

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  8. YX says:

    Damn… wrong Chris Carpenter

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    • I can’t help but wonder whether, upon hearing the news, any Red Sox fans thought Cherington had pulled off some insane three-team deal and netted the ace starting pitcher Chris Carpenter, not this one. As a Cubs fan who’s largely satisfied with this result, I chuckle.

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  9. shel says:

    I think it behooves MLB to keep compensation for FO execs down to a minimum – do we really want to see the insanity of player free agency (not to mention high-impact trades) duplicated with GM’s?

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    • EarlSweatshirt says:

      So allowing executives to leave early without any real compensation keeps their salary down how? Basically, executives are in a perpetual state of free agency, where they can either convince their current team to give them a raise to avoid interviewing with another team, or they simply leave for a better contract. A team could always refuse permission, but that would be violating the unwritten rules, which is bad news in the Old Boy league.

      I keep hearing this argument, and it makes no sense. It’s like saying Type A free agents would make less money if they came with no draft pick compensation cost. If the MLB set the precedent that poaching top executive talent came with a relatively significant acquisition cost (in addition to the contract), it might actually keep executive salaries down. How many GM openings are there per year? It makes sense to limit executive movement while under contract, which would create less leverage on their part, which drives down salary.

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  10. Patrick says:

    I think there is an issue here that hasn’t been discussed. Specifically, given the pervasiveness and accuracy of the rumors linking Epstein to the Cubs job and the rapidity with which a deal was negotiated, you have to believe the Red Sox FO at least suspects that their former GM and the Cubs were talking and may even have had a deal worked out long before they had permission to do so (even if they won’t say or can’t prove it).

    I personally suspect that some level of tampering is the rule and not the exception in baseball, and the Red Sox, in particular, have a reputation for tampering. However, tampering with a player, assistant GM or even a manager and tampering with a GM are very different things. Teams invest their GMs with significant authority, and they need and are entitled to know that those GM’s are working exclusively for them. If a GM is entertaining offers from other teams, it casts significant doubt on the decisions he makes — even if those decisions are made in good faith.

    There are some unique and worrisome aspects of this particular case. Mr. Epstein has admitted publicly that his decision to move on at the end of his contract was made some time ago. In his last year with the Red Sox, he ran up considerable payroll obligations, knowing full well he wouldn’t be there when they became burdensome. There are legitimate questions as to whether moves he made in that last year were made with the best interest of his employers in mind, In addition, in his last year in Boston he managed to trade the Red Sox’ top prospect to the man who would eventually become his GM in Chicago, and the two of them managed to acquire that prospect. This may well have been done in good faith — we don’t know — but it does look bad (I am actually surprised MLB didn’t view this as a conflict of interest and void the trade).

    While there is likely no evidence of wrong-doing by either Mr. Epstein or the Cubs — nor would you expect there to be — it is not inconceivable that the parties began feeling each other out some time ago. There are enough “coincidences” here that one can understand why the Red Sox management might feel they had been taken.

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  11. Andy says:

    If Epstein over a freely available GM candidate isn’t worth an actual player, then how far below replacement level must Jim Hendry be?

    Is there any Cubs fan that would not give up say Darwin Barney, to have the Theo FO vs. the Hendry FO?

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  12. Joe says:

    The Red Sox were lucky to get anything better than a Thank You note.

    Theo was under contract for another year and if Boston didn’t want him gone, he would be their GM right now.

    This compensation stuff (in general) is garbage…. either let the guy go or have him honor his existing contract. What’s next hitting coaches? Head trainer? Clubhouse attendant? Non-players should not be effectively traded (and dressed up as “compensated for”)

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  13. Towney007 says:

    Essentially, this whole thing was framed by the media for the Red Sox to lose no matter what, especially when Nick Cafardo started launching into the ridiculous “They should take John Lackey’s huge contract” speculation…

    Basically is Lucchino did what he should have – and held out for better compensation – then the media would have done what they’ve been doing and framed him as a meddlesome, obstructive sycophant. If he let Theo go and sacrificed his leverage, the Sox would have been painted as bungling the whole process and dragging it out for no reason. So the media had the rotten tomatoes locked and loaded from the start.

    Given the importance of front office decision makers in today’s game, I’d say the Red Sox were entitled to more than what they received, but in all honesty – this whole thing has been mostly a manufactured issue from the get-go.

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    • pft says:

      A GM with the 2nd or 3rd highest payroll in MLB and whose team has not won a playoff game since 2008, missed the playoffs the past 2 years, is saddled with a number of bad contracts (daisuke, lackey, Crawford?) and has a fam system devoid of high level prospects (not a single pitcher in BA top 100).

      GM’s have been fired for less. Red Sox should be thankful the Cubs saved them 3 million in separation pay.

      Theos value as a GM is 3 million for 1 year (essentially what he is paid). Carpenter may provide that or more in surplus value over the next 6 years. Not sure why you would expect the Red Sox to have received more.

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  14. Patrick says:

    I don’t think the Red Sox really had the option of saying no or holding out for better compensation. By the time the Cubs approached the Red Sox for permission, the rumors of Theo’s impending departure were so pervasive, he was already a lame duck GM. And Theo really helped reinforce that perception with his ultra-passive role in the firing/resignation of Terry Francona.

    Mr. Epstein and the Cubs couldn’t have orchestrated the situation any better had they tried.

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  15. EM says:

    The way things stand, plain and simple, the Sox got hosed… But in all honesty I think that the PTBNL trade will even things out. These guys have known each other for quite some time and it wouldn’t make sense for Hoyer and Epstein to pull a fast one on Cherrington. In the worst case scenario (for the organization) Cherrington is fine with receiving little in return for Epstein since he did received a promotion to GM with Epstein’s departure. On the other hand, it is possible both teams are taking a “it takes money, to make money” approach to this and Boston is giving Chicago a chance to stock the farm system; I will go with the latter.

    As it stands, with the exception of shortstop, Boston is set. Unless Chicago were to send Sterling Castro to Boston, it would be in Boston’s best interest to wait until they need a third or fourth team to make a bigger trade… Or… Boston got hosed and I am a fool for believing that everything will even out eventually…

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  16. Dan G says:

    As a Red Sox fan, I’m pretty happy that they got anything for Theo. If he didn’t have another year on his contract, he would have been fired, er, excuse me, his contract would not be extented, just like Tito, and they would have received bupkis from whatever team signed him. The leverage that the Sox had, if you want to call it that, was that the Cubs really wanted Theo. The leverage that the Cubs had is that they knew that the Sox wanted to make a change and paying a guy $3,000,000 for doing nothing hurts, whether he is a player or a GM. Put another way, I think Chris Carpenter with Cherington as GM and Theo off the payroll is better than Cherington as GM and Theo on the payroll for a year, or Theo as a 1 year lame duck GM.

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