Theo Epstein might be one of the best general managers in baseball, and it's perfectly understandable that the Chicago Cubs would want him to fill that (or an even bigger) role in their organization. It's also easy to see why the Boston Red Sox would not want to lose Epstein without getting a good deal in return.
It's getting harder and harder, though, to see how the hassle of the haggle is worth the time either side is investing in the negotiations that are still ongoing over what the Cubs will send to complete this quasi-transaction. The Cubs want to send Boston cash. The Red Sox want top minor-league talent.
Chicago should not give up top talent for a front-office guy. The Sox should not dig in their heels when they have no real leverage whatsoever.
Nonetheless, here we are, and with rumors still flying, here are 10 prospects in the Cubs system about whom Boston is sure to ask for but the team should scoff at giving up for Epstein.
The Cubs took Golden in the second round in 2010, gambling on remarkable athleticism that drew early comparisons to former Braves outfielder Ron Gant. Seventeen months later, the team is still holding its breath, as Golden batted .242/.332/.420 with seven homers for their short-season Class A team in 2011.
Those numbers are not necessarily disastrous. Golden showed surprising polish early in the season, struggling more after 2011 signees two and three years older than he began to pour into what is a college-heavy league. Having just turned 20 in October, Golden is still a prospect and could be a candidate to take on full-season ball next year. Whatever the case, though, he is exactly the kind of high-ceiling talent the team ought not to let go for Epstein.
Tom Ricketts wants Theo Epstein because Epstein works with process, not short-term results, at the center of his decision-making framework. In that light, though, it would not make much sense for Ricketts to abandon what process he himself has fostered since taking over the club.
Ricketts' biggest emphasis has been expanding and modernizing the Cubs' presence in Latin America, especially the Dominican Republic, and Candelario is one example of that philosophy working out. At age 17, Candelario has not yet played Stateside ball, but hit a robust .337/.443/.478 this season for the Cubs' Dominican Summer League squad. He is tall and filling out already at a young age, so his ceiling is very high. Letting him go would demonstrate only that Ricketts does not trust his own process, or that of Oneri Fleita. It would be the wrong move.
Three days younger than Starlin Castro, Lake may not be all that far behind Castro in attaining the big leagues. He does not share Castro's offensive ceiling, but he has pop and surprising speed for a big man. He is batting .333/.400/.639 with seven stolen bases in the Arizona Fall league so far, an encouraging sign.
Lake's arm makes him really solid defensively at shortstop, though he lacks Castro's range. Still and all, he could take over when Castro inevitably moves to third, and trading him now (though admittedly it would be at the peak of his value) would be a foolish forfeiture of a valuable insurance policy.
If the Cubs trade any pitching at all to Boston, they are nuts. If they trade any pitching at all, they clearly have a badly skewed understanding of the status of the organization. This team badly lacks depth on the mound, and is just now getting to a point where they can address it. Rusin could be a candidate for the fifth rotation slot next spring, or slide into the Cubs bullpen and be tutored by Sean Marshall in the Way of being a non-specialist from the left side in relief.
Either way, the Cubs will be (not merely non-competitive) unwatchable for years if they start letting even complementary pitching pieces get away, because they simply have none to spare.
Frustratingly slow though it may be, there is progress here. Vitters was drafted very young by the Cubs in 2007, which is more of an advantage than you might think. Though injuries and an incurably aggressive approach have hindered his development, he is still coming off an age-21 season of which he spent the full duration at Double-A, and in which he had a healthy .770 OPS. Vitters also has hit .405/.425/.649 in the Arizona Fall League. The Sox would love to have him, but the Cubs would be nuts to cut the cord now.
The Cubs have one of the most developed programs for finding and signing amateur talent in the Pacific Rim, but unless you count the modest contributions of Hee-Seop Choi, they have yet to show meaningful return on that effort.
Wang represents one part of a renewed promise for the Cubs' programs in Taiwan, Taipei, South Korea and neighboring countries. His live arm produced a 3.22 ERA and a 70:22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 67 innings at short-season Class-A this year, all at age 20. He could help the Cubs plant a flag in his native Taiwan, for which reason he is even more valuable and not to be lost when a GM who could exploit that very advantage is coming into town.
Szczur is as raw a legitimate 22-year-old prospect as one can imagine. He played football more intensely at Villanova than baseball, and this was his first full season of commitment to the sport.
Szczur (think Roman leadership) has all kinds of athletic tools, from good speed and ball-hawking instincts in center field to a surprising share of pop at the plate. His swing does not help him access that power much, and his approach to plate appearances after a mid-season promotion to Class-A Advanced Daytona did not inspire confidence. Still, his athleticism and his top-of-the-order ceiling make him a tough piece with which to part.
An electric arm gives Dolis a big-league future in the bullpen despite a limited repertoire. A slider is there, but mostly, he blends a string-straight triple-digit four-seam fastball with a much tougher sinker around 96. Dolis will not strike out a sky-high number of batters, but ground balls will come in bunches. A September call-up confirmed the Cubs' belief that Dolis can add to the team's pitching depth as soon as next season. Giving up a rookie in whom the organization believes so much does not make sense.
McNutt had something like a lost developmental season in 2011. Blisters and other assorted injuries piled up and held him under 100 innings, and even when he was on the mound, he did not seem on top of his game. McNutt still has a mid-rotation ceiling and could fulfill it quickly, though, so the Cubs should not let potential pitching help get away.
Don't worry, Cubs fans; this is not happening. Still, the fact that Jackson's name made it as far as the rumor mill is terrifying.
Don't get me wrong; Jackson is not a future superstar. He runs more toward Colby Rasmus than Jacoby Ellsbury. Still, he will be very good for a long time, the kind of guy the Cubs should want atop their batting order on Opening Day 2012 and going forward. If they deal Jackson to acquire Epstein, Cubs fans will remember Theo the way they remember Ernie Broglio.