Cubs trying to protect their farm system from Red Sox

Cubs trying to protect their farm system from Red Sox
October 20, 2011, 3:05 am
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Tom Ricketts told Jim Hendry he would be fired on July 22. They buried the secret and the chairman kept his general manager on the job for almost a month, right up to and through the trade deadline.

The Cubs left their roster mostly intact, sending only Kosuke Fukudome and almost 4 million to the Cleveland Indians for two prospects. Several players had no-trade rights, and there wasnt a blockbuster deal to make, but fans wanted to see some change.

At the news conference on Aug. 19, Ricketts was asked why Hendry was the one working the phones.

Nothing was all that compelling, Ricketts said that day. If you look at the trade deadline stuff, I think a lot of people have this perception that its a great chance to retool your organization. But teams are careful with their prospects these days.

People are a little more thoughtful about giving up a high-end prospect for an existing star. There wasnt anything out there that we thought was best for the organization.

The Cubs feel like theyre getting a rock star in Theo Epstein, and the Boston Red Sox know that. There really arent many high-end prospects to be had in this negotiation, and thats why the Cubs desperately want to hang onto them.

Industry sources have said how Ricketts and team president Crane Kenney did this deal backwards, that they should have completed the compensation part first, before coming to terms with Epstein.

The White Sox already had a compensation agreement in place with the Florida Marlins when Ozzie Guillen was released from his contract last month.

By Wednesday, there was some optimism that the talks had progressed. The feeling is that it will take two prospects the Marlins set that precedent in the Guillen deal to free Epstein from the final year of his contract in Boston.

All indications are that the new head of baseball operations will be coming to Chicago within the next few days. Commissioner Bud Selig would have to green light any formal announcement during the World Series.

As much as Major League Baseball doesnt want to distract from the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers, thats already happened with the protracted Epstein talks.

The next windows to unveil Epstein at a stadium club press conference could be the World Series off-days scheduled for Friday and Tuesday. A potential Game 7 would take place on Oct. 27.

The Cubs a franchise that has essentially been in a holding pattern for almost three months, since the moment Ricketts told Hendry he was fired wont want to have it drag out that long. Their calendar year for employee contracts runs through the end of October. They also have organizational meetings tentatively scheduled for the middle of November.

Thats a time for Epstein to get a deeper understanding of whats coming next. In trying to place a value on their general manager, the Red Sox wont be overwhelmed by what the Cubs can realistically offer.

The Tampa Bay Rays raided the system last winter in the Matt Garza deal, grabbing five players, including three Baseball America judged to be among the top 10 prospects in the organization. That haul included pitcher Chris Archer (No. 1), plus shortstop Hak-Ju Lee (No. 4) and outfielder Brandon Guyer (No. 10).

There may not be any future All-Stars that are easy to identify in this organization. The Cubs certainly havent set the industry standard, but the player-development system isnt quite as bad as its been portrayed in the Boston media.

There is the sense that Brett Jackson is a five-tool player who does everything well, though there may not be an exceptional part to his game. He still could be roaming the Wrigley Field outfield next summer.

If Trey McNutt had put together a stronger season, he might have been included in the rotation plans for 2012. But given that there are so few impact arms at the highest levels of the system and that the rotation should be the No. 1 priority this winter its difficult to see the Cubs giving up their top pitching prospect.

Cubs people will remind you that Josh Vitters just turned 22, and can still show everyone why he was the third overall pick in the 2007 draft. They think that by 2014, the athleticism that made Matt Szczur an NFL prospect could turn him into the leadoff hitter theyve been searching for all these years.

Double-A Tennessee featured 12 Southern League All-Stars and advanced to the championship playoff round for the third consecutive season.

No one at the bargaining table truly knows how good these players are going to be. Theyre all just guessing, though Epstein has a good track record of putting the right people in place, which is why the Red Sox should make demands.

But its about time to let Epstein get to work and start building around Garza and Starlin Castro.