They say the only two things for certain in life are death and taxes. I'd like to nominate any public negotiation involving the Boston Red Sox taking a million frigging years for consideration. We had Theo sitting down to what must have been a month long Thanksgiving dinner with the Schillings in '03. Then there was the plane tracking extravaganza that was the Matsuzaka negotiations ("Oh my God, they're flying over Peoria!"). Don't forget Gorilla-gate in '05 where Theo left then hung out in the bushes for three months before coming back. More recently we had Adrian Gonzalez and the will-they won't-they extension that was required to complete the trade that was on again, off again more frequently than Dick Cheney's heart.
Now we've got compensation for Theo leaving for the blacker parking lots of the Chicagoland metro area. Expect this to take till Christmas. ("What do you want for Christmas, little Timmy?" "I want them to just make up their damn minds already, daddy." "Well said, son.") To take it back a step, Theo Epstein was the General Manager in Boston. Now he wants to be the GM in Chicago. The Cubs are all for it -- heck, it was their idea -- but there's the small matter of Theo's contract. You see, apparently he signed a contract that binds him to the Red Sox through the 2012 season. Whoopsy doodle! No problem though, the Cubs will just hand over a ham sandwich and an partially worn Blues Brothers VHS tape and we'll call it even.
Sorry, no dice. The Sox want something, you know, useful. Not sucky. There in lies the rub. The Cubs have all but announced Epstein as their new GM. The Red Sox have all but announced Epstein's replacement in Boston, Ben Cherington. But neither side can actually announce anything until the Red Sox agree to let Theo out of his contract and that ain't happening without some yum-yums, capiche?
Like those that went before them, these negotiations ("...and your pencil sharpener too." "No way, dude!") are taking forever. But the deal should get done. Both sides want it so it should definitely get done. Except, what if it doesn't? It is possible that this deal just doesn't happen. That's not to say it's a strong possibility. I'd call it a weak possibility. Or maybe a crazy weak possibility. Like me-in-a-bar-brawl weak. Like Dane Cook is funny weak. Like The Selected Aphorisms of Johnny Damon weak. Actually, that last one might be kinda awesome. In any case, the deal could might maybe not kinda sorta maybe not get done. Maybe. And though it's a remote possibility, it begs the question, what would happen if it fell through? Would Theo come back to Boston?
If the deal fell through, there are several options. You would imagine there could be some hurt feelings on both sides, but particularly on the part of Theo Epstein. Epstein could view it as the Red Sox (and maybe someone specific in the front office) blocking the advancement of his career.
Epstein made it clear to John Henry that he wasn't interested in being a part of the Red Sox organization any more. Henry said in his lengthy radio appearance that he tried to coax Epstein into staying, that he wanted Epstein to be the GM for the next twenty years or more, but Theo wasn't interested and wanted to go elsewhere. If that's true it seems to preclude Epstein's rejoining the Red Sox front office regardless of how the negotiations play out.
One could point to the incident in 2005 when Epstein left the Red Sox for three months (Cherington took over then as well, at least in part) in order to say never say never. That was a different situation. Or at least the publicly available information on it is different. Supposedly at the time Epstein wanted to alter the balance of power between him and President Larry Lucchino. He was fed up with the way things were and was prepared to leave the organization if he couldn't affect change. Initially he couldn't, so he left. Then, through negotiation, that change (or a reasonable facsimile) was made and Epstein came back.
This time seems different, though it's possible that behind the scenes it isn't. From what we know, the main difference is Epstein didn't just leave, he left for a position with a different club. He's not waiting around to be rehired by the Red Sox.
Over at BP, Kevin Goldstein wrote that the Red Sox owe Epstein somewhere around $7 million. A deal would spell the end of not only Theo Epstein as a member of the Red Sox organization but of that $7 million obligation. That's a powerful incentive for the Red Sox to get a something done. Keep in mind if Epstein doesn't go to Chicago, the Red Sox will still owe Epstein that money. The Cubs want Epstein, Epstein wants the Cubs, and the Red Sox want to be free of the $7 million they owe someone who doesn't want to be in Boston any longer.
Sadly this pretty much spells the end of Theo in Boston. At least for a while. In ten years? Twenty Well, you just never know. Maybe sometime in the future, you'll be walking along Lansdowne Street, bouncing over zombie corpses in your anti-gravity moon boots, and see a passing gorilla. After shooting it dead with your laser gun, you might just see a man in a gorilla suit duck out of Fenway Park doorway. Don't shoot! Theo's back in town.