Theo Epstein is the man of the moment

Theo Epstein is the man of the moment
October 12, 2011, 1:20 am
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A person who works for Tom Ricketts observed that the Cubs chairman would make a good scout. This was said with a certain amount of admiration as Ricketts conducts his clandestine search for a new general manager.

Ricketts would rather not be seen or heard until the new hire is introduced at a stadium club news conference. He believes his family will own the team for generations. He knows this decision will shape the franchise for years, if not decades, to come.

So thats why Cubs employees have been told to be patient, why theyre prepared to hold organizational meetings in the middle of November, if thats what it takes. Theyve been trying to dial down the sense of urgency.

But all this is being done in the world of Twitter and the 247 news cycle, which usually doesnt have time for the long-range view. The Boston Herald, citing two unnamed baseball sources, reported Tuesday that Theo Epstein is on the verge of joining the Cubs.

Spokesmen for Ricketts and the Cubs declined to comment on a report that outlined two potential roadblocks in the negotiations: Red Sox ownership has hopes Epstein could remain with the team; and their demands for compensation would be high.

One industry source doubted that the Cubs would be willing to give up a major-league player like Matt Garza or Starlin Castro, which could set back their rebuilding plan for years. Another team official laughed at the idea.

Common sense has to kick in a little bit, the source said.

The 37-year-old Epstein would make perfect sense from a Cubs perspective, though there were caution flags that made it sound like there wasnt a done deal on Tuesday night.

The expectation is that Epstein could get a new title think president of baseball operations and report directly to ownership. Team president Crane Kenney who enjoys the support of Ricketts and has kept a lower profile in the media and the clubhouse in recent years could remain in charge of the business side in a realigned front office.

As the architect of two World Series winners including the team that reversed the curse in 2004 Epstein would bring instant credibility and signal hope to a fan base that is restless for change.

Epstein would have detailed knowledge of the Fenway Park blueprint that Cubs executives have been studying for years as they try to renovate Wrigley Field and generate more revenue.

Epstein would bridge the ideas of statistical analysis and traditional scouting something Ricketts explicitly wants as he assembles a team. He also has a reputation as a good guy to work for among the scouts in the field, meaning that he could keep intact parts of the current player-development system that Ricketts doesnt want to see torn down.

Epstein understands big-market pressure and the public aspects of the job after dealing with the Boston press corps for nine seasons. That its even reached this point without a contract extension for Epstein or anyone in either organization really shooting down the speculation is remarkable.

Ricketts pulled off the ultimate misdirection play when he fired Jim Hendry on July 22. Together they buried the secret and kept him on the job for almost another month. At that point, the Red Sox were in first place and would win 20 of their 26 games that month.

During that time, Hendry guided the Cubs through the trade deadline, closed on a draft class that cost close to 12 million and suspended Carlos Zambrano. Everyone from players to staffers to reporters was stunned by the timing of the announcement on Aug. 19.

By that night, the Red Sox were 28 games over .500, and 8.5 ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays. They were a 160 million machine programmed for the playoffs.

From the outside, it seemed like an extreme long shot that Epstein would want to leave his hometown team. He still has a year left on his contract and grew up not far from Fenway Park. But a stunning September collapse seemed to change the calculus.

After the final game of the season in San Diego, the Cubs stood around the visiting clubhouse inside PETCO Park, drinking beers and watching the side-by-side televisions.

The players became fans and didnt want to leave for the bus to the airport just yet. They cheered and yelled at the screens as the Red Sox faded away into third place while the Rays celebrated their mad dash into the postseason.

There are no teams from Boston, New York or California left in the playoffs to drive ratings. But this is a huge story that will generate buzz for the game, one man deciding between two historic franchises. Ricketts seems content to leave everyone guessing.

It needs to be a very private process, Ricketts said the day he announced Hendrys firing. Just to get out in front of it a little bit, we wont be commenting on any rumors of any conversations with any individuals at any time, nor will we be giving any updates or checking in.

At that moment, a good bet would be Ricketts trying to find a rising executive, the next Theo Epstein. Now, it sounds possible that he could be standing at the podium, with flashbulbs popping, next to the real Theo Epstein.