In late 2011, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein opted for a new challenge, moving from Boston to Chicago, where he would guide the Cubs to a historic World Series championship in 2016.
The decision was high profile and splashy. Epstein had already broken a curse in Boston, guiding the Red Sox to two World Series titles. By most metrics, he was one of the best young executives in the game. In other ways, the move was a simple baseball maneuver, a successful general manager lured from one big-market franchise to another.
Yet there was one catch: Epstein, then 37, still had one year on his contract in Boston, which meant the Red Sox would not allow him to leave without receiving compensation from the Cubs. The protracted negotiations took months — and eventually involved commissioner Bud Selig — but by the end, a resolution surfaced: The Cubs sent reliever Chris Carpenter (no, not that one) to the Red Sox. Epstein continued his career, starting a rebuilding job at Wrigley Field.
Six years later, as the Atlanta Braves seek a new general manager for a vacant position, and Royals general manager Dayton Moore remains a top candidate, the story of Epstein is worth reviewing. Last week, Royals ownership reportedly denied the Braves permission to speak to Moore, who remains under contract in Kansas City. In some cases, the maneuver would have quashed the Braves’ hopes of bringing Moore back to Atlanta.
Yet there is precedent for hiring a front-office executive or manager who remains under contract with another club, and the compensation process usually begins with players, not money. If the Braves wish to hire Moore and rejuvenate a front office that has been turned upside down by the resignation of general manager John Coppolella amidst a Major League Baseball investigation into rules violations, they would likely need to present a compensation package that would satisfy the Royals.
This scenario assumes, of course, that Moore would be interested in running the Braves’ baseball operations department, no sure thing considering the uncertainly in the organization, the possible penalties resulting from the investigation and the continued presence of current president of baseball operations John Hart.
For now, the Braves organization will remain in limbo until the results of the investigation are made public following the completion of the World Series. But the Cubs’ hiring of Epstein in 2011 is just one example of a compensation package for executives and managers in recent years.
There have been others: In late 2015, the Marlins hired Jeff Benedict, a special assistant to the general manager in the Pirates’ front office, to be their vice president of pitching. Benedict was under contract, but the Pirates accepted compensation in the form of a trade. The Marlins sent right-hander Trevor Williams, a well-regarded prospect, to the Pirates in exchange for a non-prospect who is now out of baseball. Williams posted a 4.07 ERA for the Pirates while making 25 starts in 2017. He is expected to be in their rotation in 2018.
In 2012, the Red Sox coveted Blue Jays manager John Farrell, a former pitching coach in Boston. The Red Sox sent infielder Mike Aviles to the Blue Jays in exchange for reliever David Carpenter, a move that coaxed the Blue Jays to release Farrell from his contract. Two years earlier, the Marlins sent two minor-leaguers to the Chicago White Sox in a deal for manager Ozzie Guillen.
The compensation deals can be delicate, say rival baseball executives. The leverage held by one team can often be undercut by their employee’s desire to be elsewhere. But few dispute the value of a top general manager, a role responsible for building a major-league team and farm system.
Yet six years ago, the departure of Epstein, one of the game’s top front-office pieces, fetched just one reliever with promise for Boston. Carpenter, a 26-year-old with a big arm, pitched in just 10 games in 2011 and made just another eight appearances in 2012.
A fair deal? Perhaps not, though Epstein had just one year remaining on his contract and made clear his desire to go to Chicago.
For now, Moore has remained noncommital about his future, stressing his contentment in his current job while failing to unequivocally state that he will be in Kansas City in 2018. For now, the Braves’ job remains vacant while the MLB investigation continues.
If Royals owner David Glass wishes to keep Moore in Kansas City, he can deny the Braves the chance to speak to his general manager and sweeten Moore’s deal in Kansas City. Yet in other scenario, he could also listen to what a compensation deal might look like. If Moore is intrigued by a return to Atlanta, the Braves would need to offer something for an employee under contract.
At least, that’s precedent to this point.