Epstein has one year remaining on his contract with the Red Sox. The Cubs will not surrender Major League players, according to reports, but could send prospects or cash as compensation.
Jim Hendry, the only general manager to guide the Cubs to three postseason berths, was dismissed Aug. 19. At that time, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts made it clear he wanted someone from a winning organization to take over as GM of the team, which finished 25 games back in the National League Central and in fifth place for the second straight year.
Ricketts also wants to emphasize player development. His family, which took control of the Cubs in October 2009, has shown that with its commitment to a new Spring Training facility in Mesa, Ariz., and new training academy in the Dominican Republic.
The Cubs committed $12 million to Draft picks selected last June. Ricketts likes the prospects in the Minor Leagues, gave player development director Oneri Fleita a four-year contract extension and is keeping scouting director Tim Wilken and his staff.
But the newest Cubs prospects won't have an immediate impact on a team that lost 91 games in 2011, and a franchise that hasn't won a World Series since 1908. Boston's fabled "Curse of the Bambino" is nothing compared to the Cubs' championship drought -- the longest in North American professional team sports.
Epstein should feel right at home in Chicago. Both the Cubs and Red Sox have strong, passionate fan bases; both play in antiquated ballparks; both ranked in the top-six in payrolls in 2011.
He became Boston's general manager in late 2002, at the age of 28, and put together a team that won the World Series in 2004, ending an 86-year wait, and then did it again in '07. The Red Sox reached the playoffs in six of his nine seasons as GM, but the 2011 team went 7-20 in September and blew a nine-game lead in the American League Wild Card race. Manager Terry Francona and the Red Sox mutually parted ways two days after the club's season ended.
The toughest decision for Epstein, who turns 38 on Dec. 29, may be personal. He grew up two miles from Fenway Park and his childhood dream of working for the Red Sox came true when he was hired as the GM. He does have a Cubs link, having jammed onstage with Pearl Jam, whose lead singer, Eddie Vedder, is a huge Cubs fan.
Epstein will have plenty of work to do to get the Cubs back in contention. Chicago finished near the bottom of the National League in pitching and ranked last in fielding. Both corner infielders -- Aramis Ramirez (.306, 26 homers, 93 RBIs) and Carlos Pena (.225, 28 homers, 80 RBIs) -- can be free agents. Alfonso Soriano (.244, 26 homers, 88 RBIs) will be 36 in January and is owed $54 million for three more years through 2014.
The team has $72.6 million committed in salaries in 2012, including $18 million owed Carlos Zambrano, who is still on the roster but isn't expected to be welcomed back after his early "retirement" following a bad start in Atlanta on Aug. 12. There also are six arbitration-eligible players, including Matt Garza, Geovany Soto, Blake DeWitt and Randy Wells.
Cubs manager Mike Quade is under contract for 2012, but whether he or his staff returns will be the new GM's decision. Some of the Cubs' coaches have been told they are free to pursue other jobs.
In an interview Wednesday on Sirius XM with Kevin Kennedy, Quade said he will wait and see.
"It's a huge decision for the organization and they've got their sights set on one of the best in the business," Quade said.
A graduate of Yale University and the University of San Diego Law School, Epstein spent five seasons in the Padres' baseball operations department. The Red Sox went 839-619 during his tenure.