Epstein deal forces chain reaction

Cubs' hiring of top exec affects multiple franchises

October 22, 2011|Phil Rogers

Before the White Sox signed Adam Dunn last December, they tried to make a trade for Adrian Gonzalez. But Gonzalez went from San Diego to Boston in a perhaps-too-convenient transaction between the Padres' Jed Hoyer and the Red Sox's Theo Epstein.

Both Epstein and Hoyer are now on their way to the Cubs, carrying five-year contracts in the backpacks they will tote to their transition housing in Wrigleyville.

When Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts first identified Epstein as the decision-maker he had to hire, he rejected the idea of having someone like Hall of Famer Pat Gillick in his chain of command. He said he didn't need "a baseball guy to watch my baseball guy.''

Look at his Cubs now, after one of the strangest, chaotic or exhilarating periods ever for baseball owners and executives. Pick a perspective. They're all valid.

Ricketts' hiring of Epstein directly affects three other franchises, and that doesn't count the White Sox or anyone else who lost Gonzalez to the Red Sox in the trade last December.

Epstein and Hoyer worked together for eight years in Boston. Hoyer knew all about how Epstein had coveted the All-Star first baseman since he was a low-level member of the Padres' front office and had watched Gonzalez launch balls over the outfield fence for Eastlake High School just outside of San Diego.

Hoyer, hired as the Padres' GM after the highly respected Kevin Towers was fired at the end of 2009, appeared to get value in return when he acquired three good prospects for Gonzalez (pitcher Casey Kelly, outfielder Reymond Fuentes and first baseman Anthony Rizzo), but was that package better than others he was offered?

You can bet Williams and anyone else in the Gonzalez market is considering that question in the light of the Epstein/Hoyer daily double.

Epstein sold Ricketts on the need to add Hoyer, who was under contract to the Padres through 2013. He got his friend a general manager's title —Epstein will assume the president's mantle — and a five-year contract even though the Cubs will be required to send minor-league players to the Padres as a thank-you for letting Hoyer walk.

Asked if rival executives would wonder if the Gonzalez trade played any role in the Epstein-Hoyer reunion, one said "probably not on the record anyway.'' But you can be sure people are going to talk about the connection, as well as the one between Padres lead owner Jeff Moorad and Josh Byrnes.

Most recently an assistant to Hoyer in San Diego, Byrnes was a candidate to run the Cubs and seemed likely to come to Chicago with Epstein, as they too had worked together in Boston. But it turns out Byrnes' tie to Moorad is stronger than Hoyer's, so he's being promoted into the GM's office at Petco Park.

Moorad and Byrnes had worked together in Arizona, before Moorad transitioned from part owner of the Diamondbacks to the head of an ownership group with the Padres, filling a void that resulted from John Moores' divorce. Moorad is the guy who gave Byrnes his staggering eight-year contract after the Diamondbacks ousted the Cubs in the 2007 playoffs, a deal that didn't stop the new ownership group from firing him and his bold managerial hire, A.J. Hinch.

Moorad, who didn't have Byrnes available to him when he hired Hoyer, is taking a mulligan. Not only will Byrnes be the Padres' GM but Hinch, whom Moorad had hired to head his pro scouting operation, will move into Byrnes' old office.

Oh, and in Boston, Ben Cherington, a long-time assistant to Epstein, is taking over for Epstein.

So far, there is only one clear winner is this game of musical chairs. That's the Diamondbacks. Club President Derrick Hall says they owe Byrnes less money now that he's again a general manager and they could clear their financial obligation completely.

Long journey: Edwin Jackson is an interesting guy. The Cardinals' starter He can be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game when his slider is on — as it was in his 2010 no-hitter for the Diamondbacks and in his four-hit, 13-strikeout effort in the White Sox's home opener — yet he has failed to find stability, getting traded six times in his career.

"In this game, you really don't know what's going to happen,'' Jackson said. "I've been traded (a lot). It's hard. You just prepare for what you have going on then. I had no clue that I'd be playing in October.''

Jackson's Sunday start against the Rangers will be his first ever in a World Series, and probably his last for the Cardinals. He will be a free agent this winter, and based on his age (28) and his 2011 performance (12-9, 3.79 in 1992/3 innings) should land a three- or even four-year contract. Hopefully for his sake, it will include a no-trade clause.

Jackson has spent the last 11/2 seasons in pitching finishing school, working under pitching coaches Dave Duncan and Don Cooper.

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