- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
RANDOLPH CENTER, Vt. -- There was a short break in Saturday's baseball roundtable here at Vermont Technical College, a half-hour when Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein, Neal Huntington and Boston Red Sox scout Galen Carr retreated to a room for a quick dinner. It was at that time that Epstein mentioned that he would be glad to finally talk trades with Cashman.
For almost a decade, Epstein and Cashman couldn't really deal with each other, given their Hatfield-McCoy relationship as general managers of the Red Sox and New York Yankees, respectively. There was one time, Epstein recalled, when he suggested a swap of Shea Hillenbrand for a young first baseman named Nick Johnson -- a deal that would have been a total steal for the Red Sox, at the time -- and Cashman never took that seriously. But now that Epstein has taken over the Chicago Cubs, as president of baseball operations, he and Cashman can talk earnestly. And on paper, they might have a future match on someone like Matt Garza.
But as they took questions on the dais, in Epstein's first appearance in New England since taking the job in Chicago, the general managers were asked a lot about past trades, and it was evident that regret resides as deeply as the pride over successes. Huntington talked about the Jason Bay deal with the Red Sox and how it hasn't worked out -- and on the other hand, he likes how his trade for Jose Tabata and others with the Yankees has turned out better. Cashman recalled how, after the 1998 season and a strong season from Scott Brosius, he decided to trade a young third baseman named Mike Lowell for three hard-throwing pitchers, and how rival executives raved about the great arms he got in return -- and of course, the deal turned out badly for the Yankees.
Epstein's regret over failed deals, he indicated, was built on those times when he and his staff got away from the proper evaluation process. Epstein recounted some events early in the 2006 season: Josh Bard was struggling to catch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, and so the Red Sox rushed to reacquire catcher Doug Mirabelli, getting him on a plane so that he could catch a game on a Friday night at Fenway Park. There wasn't really a proper process, as Epstein remembered, and in the end, Mirabelli hit .193 in 59 games for the Red Sox -- and the young pitcher that Boston gave up for him, Cla Meredith, contributed some strong relief for the San Diego Padres.
VTC was packed, and the guests of honor poked fun of themselves; Cashman joking that he's working with a therapist in the aftermath of his decision to sign another three-year deal and Epstein reciting, with precise detail, the Red Sox's doomed lead in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. They talked about concerns over the time of game and the changing demographics of those who follow baseball -- fans who are older and older -- and the issue of players' safety in Venezuela. They wouldn't touch the question of how the Hall of Fame voters should handle the candidacy of players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Afterward, many in the room stayed around for more baseball talk, to chat with Huntington and get their picture taken with Cashman and the Yankees' 2000 championship trophy -- even some Red Sox fans.
There are still five days in the charity auction on BattingForVermont.com, but it appears that about $175,000 will be raised for Vermont farmers who were devastated by Hurricane Irene through the generosity of many teams, players, agents and, on Saturday, through the time donated by Carr, Cashman, Epstein and Huntington.
Every time I saw someone wearing a Red Sox or Pittsburgh Pirates or Yankees or Cubs jersey, I asked if they had gotten a chance to shake hands and ask questions of the baseball officials who came to this town of 400 people, and every time, the answer was yes. That's pretty cool.
• At the time Aaron Hill was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in late August, he was hitting .224 with six homers and an OPS of .584, and during the next six weeks, he hit .315. On Sunday, the Diamondbacks agreed to sign the second baseman to a two-year, $11 million deal.
The trade to Arizona revitalized Hill, writes Nick Piecoro.
• Mike Matheny will be introduced Monday as manager, and it's a fascinating decision by the St. Louis Cardinals. He has never managed before, and there will inevitably be situations for which he is not fully prepared -- some in-game decisions and some challenges that come out of his clubhouse. But on the other hand, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak knows Matheny well and has his own sense of how the former catcher will react and adapt and evolve.
There is no credible way to predict how this will turn out, writes Bernie Miklasz. Agree 100 percent with Bernie on this point within his article: The hiring of Matheny will have zero impact on the Albert Pujols negotiations. Agents and free agents get advice from the union on whether to accept contract offers, and rest assured, Matheny's name would never come up when the pros and cons of possible deals are weighed.
From Elias: Matheny will be the sixth first-time major league manager to take over a defending World Series champion. The others were Bill Carrigan (1913 Red Sox), Jack Barry (1917 Red Sox), Bob O'Farrell (1927 Cardinals), Red Schoendienst (1965 Cardinals) and Bill Virdon (1972 Pirates). Carrigan was a midseason replacement for Jake Stahl. (We intentionally omitted Dick Hower, who managed one game after Billy Martin was fired by the Yankees in 1978, before Bob Lemon was hired for the remainder of the season.)
• At 41 years old, Matheny will be the youngest active manager in the big leagues, ahead of Manny Acta (42) of the Cleveland Indians, Eric Wedge (43) of the Seattle Mariners and Robin Ventura (44) of the Chicago White Sox.
• The Baseball Writers' Association will begin announcing its postseason awards Monday. My own picks for the Rookie of the Year Award in each league were Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays and Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves. Hellickson led AL rookies in a lot of categories, Roger Mooney writes.
Eric Hosmer will learn Monday whether he will win the AL award, writes Bob Dutton. If the criterion for Rookie of the Year were written differently -- such as, "Vote for the rookie who has the brightest future" -- Hosmer would win this unanimously. Folks with other teams love the guy, to the point where he might rank among the top dozen players in the majors in trade value as of today.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The front office movers and shakers are gathering in Milwaukee, writes Tom Haudricourt.
2. Dale Sveum is a finalist for the Red Sox managerial job, writes Peter Abraham. Boston's familiarity with him is a significant factor in his emergence as a leading candidate. Managing is a burning desire for another candidate, Gene Lamont.
3. The original plan was for there to be two 15-team leagues, writes Zachary Levine.
8. There are things that Ben Cherington would like to get done at the GM meetings, writes Nick Cafardo.
10. The Indians are looking for offense, writes Paul Hoynes.
11. Ken Williams doesn't have a lot of payroll flexibility, so he has to make his selections carefully, writes Mark Gonzales. John Danks is attracting a lot of trade interest. The White Sox have an extraordinary predicament this offseason, because they have some contracts that are crushing their payroll -- those of Jake Peavy, Alex Rios and Adam Dunn -- which is why they are expected to move Carlos Quentin and may be compelled to trade Danks or Gavin Floyd. If Peavy, Rios and Dunn don't produce in the years ahead, the White Sox are looking at massive dead money on their roster.
Money owed to Peavy, Dunn and Rios:
2012: $43 million
2013: $31.5 million
2014: $27.5 million
12. Terry Ryan will head to the GM meetings.
Dings and dents
• Katie Sharp and others offer some analysis on the early free-agent signings.
• Vanderbilt's destined to fall out of the Top 10 after getting upset on Sunday.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney writes that now that Theo Epstein has taken over the Chicago Cubs and is no longer competing against Brian Cashman in the AL East, the two GMs can finally talk trades. Plus, notes on the latest free-agent signings and other hot stove news.