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Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman finally find middle ground … in Vermont

11.13.11 at 8:37 am ET
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RANDOLPH, Vermont — It is rare that a farming community of fewer than 5,000 people in Vermont can serve as the most interesting place in the baseball universe for a night, but that is precisely what happened on Saturday night. In an effort to raise funds for the Vermont farms devastated by Hurricane Irene, Batting for Vermont delivered a fascinating night of baseball conversation in a packed Judd Hall at Vermont Technical College.

Vermont native ESPN’€™s Buster Olney and his brother, Sam Lincoln organized the event at the behest of Yankees GM Brian Cashman. Cashman saw some of the images in an Olney column in the wake of Hurricane Irene showing the devastation experienced by some of the farms in Vermont. (An estimated 463 farms and 10,000 acres suffered significant damage during the storm; with a tiny population and tax base, the $20 million in damages and losses are far greater than the state can afford to address.)

Olney recounted how Cashman’€™s response to the images was immediate. He informed Olney, ‘€œ’€™You’€™ve got to do something. ‘€¦ If you do something, I’€™ll come up.’€™’€

And so Cashman drove the roughly five hours from Connecticut. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein committed to it at a time when he was Red Sox GM, having failed to anticipate a job and lifestyle change. For now, less than three weeks into his new job, Epstein is now commuting between Boston and Chicago on weekends to see his wife and son; he drove the 2½ hours from Boston just over the state line into Vermont for the event.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington grew up on a farm in Southern New Hampshire. The impact of the event resonated with him to the point where attending was, in his words, ‘€œa no-brainer,’€ and so he flew from Pittsburgh to Manchester, NH, to participate.

Red Sox pro scout Galen Carr is based in Burlington, Vermont, and is familiar with the tales of devastation in the state. And so he, too, readily participated in the roundtable and, with Epstein now a Cub, he served as the Red Sox representative to the event.

The assembly of such baseball minds in a casual roundtable led to some fascinating insights, some of which are mentioned below, others which will be mentioned in subsequent blog entries in the coming days.

A couple of nuggets from the event:

– Epstein, in his first public appearance in New England since taking the Cubs job, said that he will remain a Red Sox fan, as he has been since moving to the Boston area as a four-year-old. ‘€œIt’€™s always going to be a part of me. I’€™m not going to try to fake it and deny that. It’€™s in pretty deep in the blood running through my veins. I’€™ll still follow the Red Sox. I think we’€™re allowed one American League team to pull for a little bit.’€

– While Epstein discussed how ‘€œthe way [he is] wired’€ made it appropriate and necessary for him to seek a new challenge by going to the Cubs, Cashman recently signed a new three-year deal with the Yankees that will run through his 17th season as New York GM.

‘€œI’€™m working on that with my therapist. I’€™ve got two more sessions to go,’€ he said.

– Epstein and Cashman almost never discussed trades when they were general managers of heated rivals. Epstein recalled just one instance. After he become GM in 2002, while talking to the Yankees GM in passing, he suggested they exchange Sox corner infielder Shea Hillenbrand (one of the least disciplined hitters in the game) for Yankees first baseman Nick Johnson (one of the most patient hitters in baseball).

‘€œIt was kind of half-joking, half-begging,’€ Epstein suggested the proposal.

Now, the two are intrigued about what it will be like to deal more regularly, and realistically, with each other.

‘€œTheo’€™s a lot smarter than me,’€ mused Cashman. ‘€œI’€™ll try to stay very, very wary of him.’€

‘€œI look forward to finally having some trade discussions with Cash and finding out what all the fuss is about,’€ said Epstein.

– Huntington, who has traded with both Epstein and Cashman, was asked about the two GMs’€™ styles in trade negotiations.

‘€œClassic bluffers,’€ said Huntington. ‘€œIncredibly prepared, incredibly knowledgeable about their players and your players. They know what they want, they know what they’€™re willing to give up and there’€™s not a lot of gray area. There’€™s not a lot of B.S. There’€™s a great game of poker involved.’€

(More to come on Huntington’€™s perspective on the three-way deal that resulted in Manny Ramirez going to the Dodgers, Jason Bay going to the Red Sox and four prospects going to Pittsburgh to come.)

– Cashman referred to the deal he made to acquire Alex Rodriguez from the Rangers (in exchange for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named, in which Texas subsidized a significant portion of the perennial MVP candidate’s salary) as his best trade. Epstein said that the deal to acquire Curt Schilling after the 2003 World Series was his best move. Both GMs suggested that they had too many regrets in free agent signings to enumerate them all, with Epstein suggesting that the process of predicting performance when signing a free agent remaining “more art than science.”

– Carr suggested that the Sox’€™ succession from Epstein to new Sox GM Ben Cherington has been ‘€œprobably as smooth a transition as you can have. ‘€¦ I think [Cherington] has the respect of everyone in the organization. Hopefully, he’€™ll take us back,’€ Carr said, pointing to the Yankees’€™ 2000 World Series trophy that sat in front of the stage, ‘€œHopefully, next time we meet this thing will have our cover on it.’€

Epstein jumped in, ‘€œWill I get a ring?’€

Carr’€™s rejoinder: ‘€œIt depends on what the compensation is,’€ referring to the ongoing talks between the Cubs and Sox to determine what the Sox will get from Chicago for Epstein’€™s departure.

Epstein added: ‘€œI guess I want for you to get a ring.’€

Cashman then chimed in: ‘€œNot if we can help it.’€

At another point, Epstein depicted his negotiations with the Red Sox to determine his own value as an “existential question.”

More highlights and news items from the event will follow. Those who are interested in learning more about the event ‘€“ and in learning how to donate to the cause that served as its basis ‘€“ can click here.

Read More: batting for vermont, brian cashman, galen carr, neal huntington
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