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October 25, 2005
Epstein, Sox no closer to a deal
By SEAN McADAM
BOSTON -- Players may be able to file for free agency as early as Thursday, signaling the official kick-off to baseball's off-season. But before the Red Sox can begin addressing their roster needs, they must first get their own front office in order.
General manager Theo Epstein's contract expires Monday, but little progress has been made toward working out an extension. Negotiations have been ''strained,'' according to industry sources familiar with the talks.
Last week, the Red Sox crossed a significant threshold, offering Epstein a three-year deal worth just over $1 million annually, but the offer was rejected.
To date, the club has been trying to tie Epstein's deal to others given to general managers with three years of experience. But Epstein's level of achievement -- three postseason appearances in as many years, a World Series title and a rebuilt farm system -- may warrant a higher salary level.
Ownership's previous willingness to give Billy Beane a five-year deal for $12.5 million just weeks before Epstein was ultimately hired remains another sticking point.
Currently, it's believed that Atlanta's John Schuerholz is the game's highest-paid GM at approximately $1.6 million per year.
One high-ranking baseball executive not affiliated with the Red Sox last week suggested that the commissioner's office had taken an interest in the negotiations, and had been urging Boston's ownership to limit Epstein's salary, fearful that it will result in an escalation in salaries for general managers throughout the game.
While reports persist that Epstein is seeking to bypass CEO Larry Lucchino and report directly to principal owner John Henry, that isn't the case, industry sources maintain.
Rather, the negotiations center around compensation and philosophy, and the strained talks could hamper the relationship between Lucchino and Epstein in the future even if a deal is eventually struck. The two have negotiated without any outside interference -- Henry has not involved himself directly, and Epstein, per the club's request, has not used an agent.
Epstein has told others in the game that he will not accept a three-year deal, with the length of contract (five years, guaranteed) offered to Beane once again used as a precedent.
It's also likely that he will not work beyond Monday, when his contract expires. If he were to do so, he would severely limit his bargaining position, to say nothing of putting him in the potentially awkward position of putting together a team for which he may be not be working.
While talks drag, there are few other positions that would interest Epstein. It's expected that Brian Cashman will announce -- possibly as early as today -- that's he remaining with the New York Yankees.
That leaves the Philadelphia Phillies as the lone big market GM opening. But former Houston GM Gerry Hunsicker has emerged as the clear favorite in Philadelphia.
Epstein's lack of options may be seen as leverage for the Red Sox, but Epstein may be willing to take time off before pursuing another job.
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