Theo Epstein deal forces chain reaction as Cubs' hiring of top exec affects multiple franchises

Oct 23 2011 - 7:19pm

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 longtime assistant to Epstein, is taking over for Epstein.

So far, there is only one clear winner in 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.

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Long journey: Edwin Jackson is an interesting guy. The Cardinals' starter 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, playing for six teams since 2003.

"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 199 2/3 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 1 1/2 seasons in pitching finishing school, working under pitching coaches Dave Duncan and Don Cooper.

"Those are definitely two of the best pitching coaches in the game," Jackson said. "Everybody speaks real highly of both of them. They both just got me to pitching (to) contact, stay consistent around the plate and, at the end of the day, trust what you have."

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Bummer numbers: Ratings for postseason games have been somewhere between disappointing and abysmal, but Major League Baseball still sees increases in its next television contracts.

"The sport has never been more popular," commissioner Bud Selig said on SiriusXM radio. "... By the way, the clubs' local television ratings have been spectacular. So I'm not going to worry about (poor ratings). Of course I'd like better ratings and I still think if we get a six or seven-game World Series the ratings will be terrific. But let me say this to you: Our contracts will be up in a little while. Never have so many been interested in acquiring our rights. Never."

Selig says he's talking major networks, not ones desperate for programming.

"So if they don't seem all that concerned, I'm not," he said. "And I'm telling you, they are so intense on getting our postseason rights that the popularity of this sport now, I think, is greater than people realize."

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The last word: "KHADAFY KILLED BY YANKEE FAN: Gunman had more hits than A-Rod." -- New York Post headline over a photo showing the body of the former Libyan leader with an armed man wearing a Yankees cap.

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The Whispers: Angels could pick first woman GM

Former Dodgers general manager Dan Evans and White Sox assistant Rick Hahn are both under strong consideration for the Angels GM job, although it remains unclear if Hahn formally has thrown his hat in the ring. Kim Ng, the former University of Chicago softball player who has been an assistant GM for the Yankees and Dodgers, is considered a serious contender, with Arte Moreno among the few owners who would be bold enough to hire baseball's first female GM. Evans and Ng also have ties to the White Sox. ... The Athletics don't think coach Curt Young was what went wrong with the Red Sox's pitchers in September. They hired him to serve as a coach for Bob Melvin, putting him back where he spent the best years of his playing career. There was a feeling in Boston that pitchers took advantage of Young, whom Clay Buchholz describes as "laid back." ... Former White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker, a native of Georgia, was thrilled to land a hitting coach job with the Braves. Paul Konerko, in particular, could miss him. ... Yadier Molina's trip to the World Series makes this the sixth Series in the last 10 years with one of the three catching Molina brothers. ... Speaking of that, Cardinals' reliever Arthur Rhodes is in position to duplicate the trick pulled off by Bengie Molina a year ago, when he got World Series shares from both the Giants and Rangers. The Rangers released Rhodes and used Josh Hamilton's ninth-inning sacrifice fly off him Thursday night to help win Game 2. Outfielder Lonnie Smith (1985) is the only other player to get World Series shares from both teams (Cardinals and Royals). ... Starlin Castro is not the only impressive shortstop in the Cubs' inventory. Junior Lake, a better fielder than Castro, is flashing power while on pace to set the stolen base record in the Arizona Fall League. He could open next season at Triple-A. ... The Rangers' C.J. Wilson is hurting his free-agent value with a poor October. The talk is he can't be viewed as anything more than a No. 3 starter on a contending team. ... Co mmissioner Bud Selig says he hasn't abandoned hope of getting a hard slotting system in the labor deal currently being negotiated, but most observers feel it has been off the table for a long time. "I want to go back to helping the 10 or 12 smaller-market clubs that need to be helped," he says. ... Selig continues to wrestle with Jim Crane's controversial bid to buy the Astros. The New York Post has reported that Crane has asked MLB to give him $50 million to move from the National League to the American League. If that's true, it's another reason for owners to question whether they want him in their club. Some wonder if Crane is looking for face-saving ways to pull out of a deal that has spotlighted his checkered history in business. ... The Blue Jays suffered a blow in the seemingly low-pressure World Cup earlier this month in Panama. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud, the franchise's top prospect, tore ligaments in his left thumb, prompting a major surgery that could limit him at the start of 2012. ... How big of a business is scouting? The Blue Jays reportedly have 28 amateur scouts and 10 associate scouts and video coordinators at the 85-team Perfect Game World Wood Bat championship being played in Jupiter, Fla.

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