The day after sending Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers in an unusual, grinding last-minute deal at the trading deadline, Cubs team president Theo Epstein disputed reports the process got contentious between the veteran pitcher and the club.
Admittedly disappointed that Dempster used his no-trade rights to nix a more desirable trade with Atlanta last week and severely limit the club’s ability to “maximize our return,” Epstein nonetheless defended the longtime fan favorite who was widely criticized by fans and media.
“I don’t think Ryan deserves any criticism,” Epstein said before Wednesday’s game against Pittsburgh. “It’s not fair for anyone to criticize Ryan unless they’ve been in that spot. It’s a right he’s earned.”
Faced Monday of last week with a 1 p.m. deadline the following day to approve a trade for touted Atlanta pitcher/prospect Randall Delgado, Dempster refused to approve the trade on that timeline and held out for a possible deal to his top choice, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs never came close to agreeing on a prospect or package of prospects with the Dodgers, who – unlike the Braves – were willing to take on all of Dempster’s remaining salary, further dampening their willingness to part with one of their better prospects.
Dempster, who spent the afternoon leading up to Tuesday’s 3 p.m. deadline in the team’s office, consented in the final half hour to opening the process to the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers.
The Cubs got a pair of Class prospects in return, right-hander Kyle Hendricks and third baseman Christian Villanueva.
“Do we wish that he would have had 12 places that were an ideal destination for him instead of one? Sure,” Epstein said. “The Atlanta deal we had lined up I thought was an outstanding deal for the organization. Would we have liked to have executed it? Absolutely.”
Dempster has said publicly the front office communicated well with him, and there was no animosity through the process. But privately, sources say, he was upset at being pushed into a decision with a week left before the deadline and felt as though his rights weren’t being respected by the club – emotions made worse last week when news of the Delgado agreement was leaked almost immediately after he was informed.
Contrary to some reports and widespread assumption, Dempster never said in advance of negotiations that he would necessarily approve a deal to the Braves, but indicated it would be among those he would consider.
“There was one spot that was a clear No. 1,” Epstein said, referring to the Dodgers.
Epstein said Dempster was told two or three days in advance that a deal with Atlanta could be a realistic possibility and that the Dodgers might not.
“Also, the day before the deal, I told Ryan, `OK, it looks like tomorrow morning, we’re going to have to [make a final decision] with the Braves,” Epstein said. “So [then] it was time to make a final decision. So we consummated a deal with Atlanta quietly, and I told Ryan, `We have a deal, so now, you don’t have to decide right away, but I know you’ve been thinking about it for a couple days, keep thinking about it.’
“And that was a good conversation. And then an hour later, the story leaked and with the nature of technology and social media these things obviously spread quickly like wildfire. So Ryan never got the opportunity for more than I’d say an hour to fully contemplate Atlanta with a deal actually in place.
“I feel for him, because then all of a sudden instead of having time to contemplate it privately, he had everyone telling him what to do, everyone asking questions about it, and it became a nuisance for him.
“I think it’s really hard to criticize Ryan. I think it’s unfortunate. But he clearly wasn’t blindsided because we’d been telling him for days that Atlanta was a very likely destination. …”
As for the idea that things became contentious, Epstein said that never was the case.
“We were on great terms throughout the entire process,” he said. “We talked about it every day. We joked about it every day. And in the end once he came to our office and actually heard the conversations we were having with LA, he realized, `OK, maybe that’s actually not going to happen. ‘
“He had a clear No. 1, which is his right, and he wanted to see that through. I don’t hold that against him.”