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Cubs, Red Sox want Bud Selig to set compensation for Theo Epstein

Theo Epstewith manager Dale Sveum has been unable settle compensatiwith former Red Sox colleague Ben Cherington. The Red Sox have

Theo Epstein, with manager Dale Sveum, has been unable to settle compensation with former Red Sox colleague Ben Cherington. The Red Sox have held the upper hand in negotiations. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 20, 2012 3:46PM

The compensation headache over Theo Epstein’s move from the Boston Red Sox to the Cubs is officially Bud Selig’s problem, turning a minor embarrassment for the Cubs into a potential precedent-setting action for Major League Baseball.

Multiple sources told the Sun-Times that the Cubs and Red Sox have requested that their nearly three-month stalemate be resolved by the commissioner, a move apparently initiated by Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino late last month, one source said.

At issue is what constitutes the “valuable compensation” the Red Sox say they were promised, according to a source familiar with the team’s correspondence with the league.

It’s unclear how long Selig will take. Also unclear is whether the solution will involve ordering a specific player or players to the Red Sox or setting parameters. There appears to be no precedent for it.

Longtime baseball officials say they can’t recall a similar case of compensation for the hiring of a manager or front-office official being disputed to this degree for so long, particularly one involving such a high-profile exec as Epstein.

Until now, the commonly held benchmark was the Cubs’ hiring of two-time World Series architect Andy MacPhail from the Minnesota Twins in 1994. That took a month to complete, with the Cubs sending Class A pitcher Hector Trinidad to the Twins (he never reached the big leagues).

Most recently, the White Sox received two prospects from the Miami Marlins — both ranked by some in the Marlins’ top five — as compensation for manager Ozzie Guillen last fall. The process took one day beyond Guillen’s departure.

The Red Sox have argued that Epstein is more valuable than MacPhail or any manager. Epstein’s five-year, $18.5 million contract with the Cubs and his rock-star reception in Chicago support that argument.

The Cubs’ major problem began with the original call in early October from team president Crane Kenney to Lucchino requesting permission to talk to Epstein, who had a year left on his Red Sox contract. That was followed by the Cubs’ quick interview process and agreement on terms with Epstein before resolving compensation.

Going at the process “backwards,” as baseball insiders called to it, gave the Red Sox a sizable upper hand in compensation talks. The hard-nosed Lucchino was intent on gaining a significant player or package of players, at various points floating names such as top pitcher Matt Garza and top prospect Brett Jackson.

It took Selig to intervene to get the teams to formally announce Epstein’s deal and set a Nov. 1 deadline for compensation.

By Oct. 28, a frustrated Selig predicted during the World Series that the compensation issue would end up on his desk.

“If I had to guess, it’ll be another thing that I have to deal with on Nov. 1,” he said before later extending the deadline indefinitely, with the issue said to be in the hands of Epstein and his friend, new Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington.

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