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Red Sox dropped ball in compensation battle

02.22.12 at 7:18 am ET

Theo Epstein 1, Red Sox 0.

That’s the score after the ridiculous, embarrassing, how the hell did it take this long compensation drama finally had its conclusion on Tuesday afternoon. It’s done, and from a Red Sox perspective this was bungled from the start.

Four months for Chris Carpenter (and for the 46,882nd time, it’s not that Chris Carpenter)? Really? You’re going to hear and read all about Carpenter’s 100 mph fastball and dominant performance in the 2011 Arizona Fall League and (wait for it) intriguing upside and all of that might be true, but here’s the reality: Carpenter had a 6.53 ERA in Triple-A last year and had a 1.97 WHIP in 10 appearances with the Cubs at the end of the 2011 season. He’s just another guy, the 14th-ranked prospect in a system so lousy that Tom Ricketts had to spend $20 million to being in Theo Epstein to basically start from scratch.

What happened to the “significant compensation” the Red Sox and Cubs reportedly agreed to, that Larry Lucchino told us was coming? Under even the most liberal definition Carpenter doesn’t qualify.

And this really isn’t a knock on Carpenter, who might figure it out and be a serviceable major league reliever. This is about John Henry and Lucchino and Ben Cherington, who all refused to step on the throats of the Cubs when they were in position where it should have been required to do so. This is Business 101, right? I understand that Henry and Cherington are friends with Theo Epstein, and that’s swell, but this is about making your franchise better. You have an asset someone else wants — and wants desperately, this was the grand prize for Ricketts, the biggest fish out there — and you just let him walk out the door and kiss all leverage goodbye?

Look, I understand that the Red Sox were OK with Epstein leaving. It was time, the big-money free agent track record was hideous, they could save a few bucks with Cherington, all that stuff makes sense. And I personally think Theo leaves a mixed track record behind (and a hell of a mess in some ways). You and I probably agree on all the good and all the bad. But that’s completely immaterial in this case, because Ricketts and the Cubs looked at Epstein and saw the Man Who Ended The Curse. Forget John Lackey, forget Carl Crawford and Matt Clement and all the whiffs. The Cubs needed a name and face to redefine the franchise, and Theo was the perfect fit.

This is where it gets confusing. Why didn’t the Red Sox hold Epstein hostage, stick him in an office and let him do paperwork until the Cubs gave them the prospect or player that they wanted? Not the second choice, not the fifth choice, not the 13th choice. Does anyone think the Cubs would let the deal fall apart over a prospect? Did you watch Epstein’s introductory press conference, or read the press coverage in Chicago when his name was first mentioned? It was tongue bath after tongue bath, the savior had arrived. The backlash of losing that because you wouldn’t give up a guy with a .420 OBP in Double-A would have been enormous, and the Cubs (already getting smoked by the press for years of ineptitude) wouldn’t have risked it. No chance.

So the Cubs got exactly what they wanted when they wanted, and the price was an underwhelming prospect. For the Red Sox, it was an opportunity inexplicably wasted.

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