RANDOLPH CENTER, VERMONT -- Now that Theo Epstein has jumped from the Boston Red Sox to the Chicago Cubs, he can finally make deals with New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. On Saturday night at Vermont Technical College, the former rivals warmed up by trading punch lines.
"Theo's smarter than me, so I'll try to stay very, very wary if I deal with him," Cashman said.
After the laughter subsided, Epstein responded in kind: "I look forward to finally having some trade discussions with Cash and finding out what all the fuss is about."
Cashman and Epstein, along with Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington and Boston Red Sox scout Galen Carr, came to the small campus in central Vermont to participate in the "Going to Bat for Vermont Farmers" roundtable discussion. The forum, hosted by ESPN.com baseball writer Buster Olney and his brother, Sam Lincoln, raised funds to benefit farmers whose livelihoods were jeopardized by the widespread flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene.
Those in attendance were happy to play the role of "live studio audience."
"Half-begging," Cashman deadpanned.
With the Cubs still interviewing managers (Epstein said they were in the "sixth or seventh inning" of their search) and few official moves to talk about (the Jonathan Papelbon signing is still "impending"), the roundtable discussion stuck mostly to the anecdotal and philosophical, self-deprecating and sarcastic.
In talking about what the Texas Rangers went through in Game 6 of the World Series, Cashman and Epstein swapped stories of the trauma their clubs inflicted on each other in 2003 and 2004. Huntington agonized over the ill-fated Jason Bay trade that heavily benefited Boston, but pointed out that trading Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees seemed to work out OK, to Cashman's chagrin.
Olney and the audience threw other weighty questions at the panelists. Responding to a question about Wilson Ramos' recent abduction, Cashman explained that Hugo Chavez's policies made maintaining a baseball academy in Venezuela untenable. Epstein stressed the importance of improving the pace of play to keep younger fans involved -- even though he acknowledged his team was guilty of the more-than-occasional four-hour pitchers' duel. Huntington said payroll inequities couldn't be avoided, but hoped the new collective bargaining agreement would provide more equal access to amateur talent.
Hall of Fame voting for confirmed (and suspected) performance-enhancing drug users? Nobody on stage volunteered to touch that one -- and Epstein .
"All of a sudden we looked up, and we didn't have enough pitching," Epstein said during an explanation of the Red Sox's September collapse. He pinned the downfall more on injuries and a shortage of talent than questionable clubhouse conduct, which Epstein called "exaggerated."
"If you compare what happened in 2011 to what happened in 2004, they look like a bunch of choirboys."
Yes, again with the quips.
Cashman and Epstein followed the same script for the 75-minute discussion, but they leave Randolph Center and head into this week's GM meetings with vastly different to-do lists.
Cashman, whose Yankees are coming off a 97-win season and an AL East title, sounded content with his situation. He emphasized continued patience with his current roster and farm system and prepared for a "conservative" offseason, focusing on shoring up the rotation if the price is right.
While he offered event staffers a chance to try on a World Series ring, Epstein laid out what the extensive renovation project that lay ahead for the Cubs.
"In Chicago, it's my first time taking a job of that magnitude without having any background or experience in the organization. It's an interesting challenge in and of itself. We obviously have a very important offseason ahead of us. There's a lot of hiring and structuring to do, development of systems, there's an entire culture and baseball culture that I get to become familiar with.
"We've been referring to it as drinking out of a fire hose the past couple of weeks, and that'll probably continue into the offseason."