BOSTON – John Henry, the Red Sox owner, popped in on a Boston radio show Friday to deny that the club conducted a smear campaign against Manager Terry Francona after letting him go.

Henry said he was driving when he heard the hosts on 98.5 The Sports Hub accusing ownership of leaking information to the Boston Globe that reflected poorly on Francona. In a front-page article this week, the paper cited team sources who said Francona was distracted by the breakup of his marriage and painkillers he took after knee surgery.

Henry denied ownership was trying to discredit the manager.

Henry also said he personally opposed signing outfielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract but leaves those decisions to the baseball people.

Also, Henry said he had no idea the clubhouse culture had disintegrated, saying, “If Dustin Pedroia didn’t know, how are we supposed to know?”

THE CUBS are still talking with the Red Sox about compensation in a deal to bring General Manager Theo Epstein to Chicago, a person familiar with the negotiations said.

Epstein has agreed to a deal with the Cubs and would leave Boston with a year remaining on his contract, the person said on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are confidential. The deal is reportedly for five years.

Whether the Cubs have to send the Red Sox cash, prospects or both was not clear, though various reports say the sides were not in agreement.

Any deal would have to be approved by Major League Baseball.

Red Sox owner John Henry said Friday he didn’t want Epstein to leave.

“I’d love to have Theo back. I would have loved for Theo to have been our general manager for the next 20 years,” Henry told WBZ Radio in Boston.

“That was my hope. That would have been my hope. But you don’t always get what you want. I did everything I could, personally – and so did (Red Sox executives) Tom (Werner) and Larry (Lucchino) to make that happen. But the fact that is, and I think people don’t understand this, the fact is that being the general manager in Boston or being the manager in Boston is a terrifically tough job.”

Epstein got the job at age 28 in 2002.

“He never saw the general manager’s role as longer than 10 years for himself,” Henry said. “I mean, maybe he did early on, but certainly after a few years he knew the stress of this job was too much.”

METS: Bob Geren was hired as bench coach, four months after he was fired as the Oakland manager.
Geren replaced Chip Hale, who became Oakland’s bench coach last week.

WHITE SOX: Chicago reinstated right-hander reliever Tony Pena from the 60-day disabled list and requested waivers for his unconditional release.
Pena, 29, was 1-1 with a 6.20 ERA in 17 appearances before season-ending surgery Aug. 31 to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

ROCKIES: Pitcher Drew Pomeranz was arrested, accused of disturbing the peace in Oxford, Miss.
Police arrested Pomeranz at 1:25 a.m.; he was released on a cash bond at 4:40 a.m. Pomeranz was listed in jail documents by his first name Thomas.

INDIANS: Manager Manny Acta finalized his coaching staff for 2012, promoting Scott Radinsky from the bullpen to pitching coach.

Acta also named Dave Miller his bullpen coach and Tom Wiedenbauer as first-base coach.

CARDINALS: Tony La Russa sounds like he wants to return as St. Louis manager next season.

Before Game 5 of the NL Championship Series, La Russa expressed excitement about the talent in place. He said there was so much right-handed depth in the bullpen that some pitchers might have to be viewed as starters, even though the team already has its rotation in place for 2012.

La Russa has dropped other hints that he wants a 17th season with the Cardinals, mentioning plans for his annual Animal Rescue Foundation event.