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Source: Theo Epstein ‘on cusp’ of leaving Red Sox for Cubs

10.11.11 at 7:27 pm ET
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A major league source confirmed a Boston Herald report, which cited two sources saying that Red Sox GM Theo Epstein “is on the cusp of leaving his job as general manager of the Red Sox to accept a position with the Chicago Cubs that is believed to include powers greater than he has in Boston, with an announcement expected to be made ‘within the next 24 to 48 hours.'”

The report suggests that there are two remaining issues, chiefly that the Sox ownership group is still trying to convince Epstein to stay, and that if he does depart, the Sox and Cubs would have to resolve the issue of compensation — whether the Sox would expect to receive a player (or players) or money in return for Epstein, the expectation is that the team would seek something in exchange for Epstein, who has one year remaining on the four-year contract he signed with the Sox after the 2008 season.

Epstein has spent the last 10 seasons with the Sox, the last nine (minus a three-month period after the 2005 season during which he left the post) as the team’s GM. He has two World Series rings and has reached the playoffs six times with the Sox. The idea of trying to bring a World Series to a championship-starved franchise in Chicago that hasn’t won a title since 1908 — on top of having already ended an 86-year championship drought in Boston — carries undeniable appeal for Epstein, according to sources familiar with his thinking. That said, the Sox have missed the postseason in each of the last two years under Epstein, a fact that was expected to complicate the GM’s decision, given his desire to leave the franchise in strong standing should he depart.

Even so, his situation was undeniably up in the air, something that has prevented the Sox, to this point, from bringing in managerial candidates. One source familiar with the situation on Monday night suggested that the delay in talking to candidates, based on Epstein’s unresolved status, might be “a couple days” or so, though at that point, it was not clear whether that meant the GM would be staying with the Sox or going to Chicago.

Sox principal owner John Henry, in an appearance on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan Show last Friday, suggested that at some point, Epstein’s tenure in Boston will end.

‘€œEveryone has to understand a couple of things, and I think Tito alluded to this,’€ Henry said. ‘€œI think there’€™s a certain shelf life in these jobs. You can only be the general manager if you’€™re sane. You can only be the manager for a certain amount of time. It’€™s a tremendous pressure-cooker here, 162 games. It’€™s a long season, and the pressure here is 365 days.

‘€œSo, Theo is not going to be the general manager forever. Just as if [manager Terry Francona] had some back for the last two years, would he have gone past 10 years? I can’€™t imagine that he would have. I think that Theo will. He’€™s the guy now, he’€™s been the guy, we’€™ve had tremendous success. We fell apart at the end of the season. As [CEO/President] Larry Lucchino expressed, we’€™re upset about it. No fan could be more upset than I am about the result this year. But he’€™s done a tremendous job for us over the last eight years.’€

While the Herald report would indicate that relocation to the Windy City is likely, one source familiar with the matter offered somewhat conflicting information, saying that Epstein’s departure was not yet a done deal. In that regard, history may be instructive.

On two separate occasions, the Sox have seen dramatic reversals of the status of their negotiations for their GM position.

After the 2002 season, the Sox reached an agreement with A’s GM Billy Beane to come to Boston. However, after celebrating the decision to have him assume control of the Sox, Beane changed course the next day, deciding that he wanted to stay close to his family on the West Coast rather than relocating to take the reins of the Red Sox’ baseball operations. (Epstein’s current situation, in fact, very closely mirrors that of Beane in 2002, with a number of lessons to be gleaned for what is now confronting the Red Sox.)

And in 2005, after Epstein essentially had reached an agreement with the Sox to re-sign as GM after his first three seasons on the job, he reversed course and resigned over concern about the organization’s direction. Then, nearly three months later, Epstein returned to the Sox after ironing out his philosophical differences with the organization. Both of those cases would suggest that until there is a press conference announcing a final decision by Epstein, there is some danger in jumping to conclusions about his future.

Even so, it would appear that resolution of the Epstein situation is nearing, and the possibility that the GM could be leaving Boston is very real.

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