Red Sox Compensation Saga for Theo Epstein Proves Bud Selig, MLB Need to Fix Process


Red Sox Compensation Saga for Theo Epstein Proves Bud Selig, MLB Need to Fix ProcessAfter four long months of strategic posturing and patience, the Theo Epstein compensation saga is finally over. Well, sort of.

The Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs agreed on a settlement package for the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations on Tuesday, as Chicago sent 26-year-old relief pitcher Chris Carpenter to Boston as compensation for luring Epstein away from the Red Sox.

The only hiccup now is the little case of the players to be named later. As part of the deal, both sides agreed to swap a couple of other players in order to fairly settle the score. But in order to keep this drama going on even longer, those players haven’t been agreed upon and will be settled on at a later date.

All of this indecision is making the entire compensation saga a little more agitating. It’s as if the two sides are quietly fighting over the last piece of cake left on the plate. Only after four months, the cake begins to get a little bit stale and undesirable.

The longer this process rolls on, the longer the entire baseball world must endure — especially here in Boston. The thought of another four months without resolving this petulant issue is unappealing and proves that the system now in place is broken.

The compensation for Epstein’s departure should have been settled before he went on his merry way to Chicago, not four months — and counting — afterward. Once Epstein agreed to a deal and was introduced with the Cubs, all leverage from the Red Sox’ standpoint was kaput.

Baseball’s current compensation system allows for this type of one-sided agreement, where teams like the Cubs can pry away a high-level executive from another franchise for near-clearance rack value. It’s not to say that Carpenter won’t develop into a serviceable or even solid reliever for the Red Sox, but the longer this saga went on, the less opportunity the Red Sox had at capitalizing on their return.

When All-Star-caliber players such as Starlin Castro and Matt Garza are on the discussion table during initial conversations, but suddenly find themselves off limits after Epstein already is sitting comfortably in Chicago should be proof enough that the system isn’t working. Epstein was an All-Star-, if not Hall of Fame-caliber general manager during his tenure in Boston, but in return, the Red Sox are rewarded with a middle reliever and a player to be named later? Something just isn’t right here.

The system is simply mismanaged, just like other dilemmas still plaguing Major League Baseball.

Five years ago when the Red Sox paid $50 million just to talk with Daisuke Matsuzaka, there were rumblings about how unreasonable the posting system in place was to the bidding teams. Yet nothing has been done about that process, and the Texas Rangers still shelled out $51.7 million just to talk with Yu Darvish before agreeing on another $60 million so that he’d sign with them.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig at least attempted to jump in the middle of the Epstein compensation issue back in November, seeming to lay down the law on the entire process and even threatening to resolve the issue himself if necessary. Yet three months passed, and while the commissioner still held his firm stance on the disagreement, he never actually made a decision.

So why should baseball fans expect any different from this most recent annoyance? For one, because it’s fixable, but mainly because Selig has had a front-row seat to watch this entire soap opera unfold.

Time will tell if Selig alters the current system, but acknowledging that it needs fixing would be a step in the right direction. We can only hope that Selig will be proactive about making the compensation process fair the next time poachers come calling. That way, an organization like the Red Sox can withstand a storm rolling through and snatching the great minds from its brain trust. But what if next time, a big-market team like the Cubs is picking on a cash-strapped franchise like the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals? Things won’t be so simple for Selig, or whoever’s in charge then.

That is the exact reason why baseball needs to establish some sort of guidelines, or rules, for situations like this. If an organization is willing to let its staff leave without compensation, then so be it. But if a team has to watch elite members of its franchise head elsewhere in return for a few nickels on the dollar, then Major League Baseball is in deep trouble.

Selig could have a new set of rules drawn up, signed, sealed and approved by March 1 if he wanted. He did it with instant replay, didn’t he? That aspect of the game certainly needed adjusting, and so does this one.

A line needs to be drawn, and some form of evaluation system must be established to properly assess the value of high-level staffers like Epstein. The system could rank anyone from pitching coaches and managers up to GMs and VPs, giving each person an allotted value for his or her performance. The level of compensation, say two midlevel prospects or even a proven major leaguer, would have to jibe with the value of the staff member in order to complete the deal. These values don’t need to be made public or even done for every member of an organization, just the ones looking to move.

This sort of evaluation process would help baseball put an end to these long, drawn-out discussions and bring a much cleaner resolution to similar situations in the future.

The integrity of the game is being compromised by allowing this sort of negligent behavior to continue. MLB needs to take a stand to ensure that not only is a deal agreed upon before any personnel changes sides, but also that fair compensation is assured for all participating parties.

The NFL would never allow such a disorderly deal to be made. The Oakland Raiders’ trade of head coach Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two first-round picks in 2002 proved that football sure isn’t messing around. David Stern set a similar precedent in the NBA even more recently, vetoing a Chris Paul trade to the Los Angeles Lakers because it didn’t properly benefit all teams involved.

Now, it is Selig’s turn to make a statement and ensure that baseball will not tolerate such ineptitude or inconsistency in the future.

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