Theo Epstein discovered an interesting loophole in compensation rules when he ran the Boston Red Sox, and naturally he exploited it.
Year after year, Epstein would make a mid-season trade for a marginal player who was set to become a free agent after the season, knowing he wasn’t going to re-sign the player. The Red Sox received a compensation pick in the next draft instead.
So for a small out-of-pocket expense he was able to add a draft choice, which his scouts could turn into a prospect who could help the franchise for six years before his turn at free agency arrived.
Major League Baseball eventually caught on and closed that loophole about the time that Epstein moved from Boston to Chicago. But it’s clear that Jed Hoyer, now the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, paid attention all those years he worked alongside Epstein.
While the Cubs figure to make bigger moves before Friday’s trade deadline, the one Hoyer pulled off on Monday — trading lefty reliever Andrew Chafin to Oakland for two prospects — is worth examining. It was similar in nature to the deals he and Epstein made so often in Boston.
Chafin, acquired by the Cubs from Arizona in 2020, became a free agent after the season. Hoyer resigned him to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2022, no doubt hoping he would have value to a contending team if the Cubs opted to sell off talent.
The Cubs guaranteed Chafin only $2.75 million, including a $500,000 buyout of his mutual option. They’ll pay him about $1.5 million, and for that are receiving outfielder Greg Deichmann and Daniel Palencia from the A’s.
Deichmann was Oakland’s second-round pick in 2017, after a nice run at LSU. He is an older prospect at 26 but is currently having a productive year in Triple-A (.300/.433/.452). He seems likely to join the Cubs’ top prospect, Futures Game MVP Brennan Davis, in the outfield at Wrigley Field in the near future. Palencia, 21, is a Venezuelan lottery ticket who throws hard but didn’t sign until last season.
Hoyer landed those two guys with a financial investment (Chafin’s 2021 salary) of about what it would have taken to pay the 50th player picked in the draft — and since the draft has been capped, it looks like an especially shrewd way to add to your farm system.
This may not be quite the same as when Epstein would add so-called “fungible assets’’ like Mike Remlinger and Paul Byrd at mid-season so he could let them walk for draft picks after the season, but it’s pretty darn smart. The Cubs’ fans should hope that Hoyer is just as wise with his upcoming decisions regarding Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Craig Kimbrel.