Days ago, the Red Sox and Dodgers pulled off the most expensive trade in history, but a just-released recording of an August 20 telephone conversation between Boston GM Ben Cherington and his predecessor, Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, reveals that it very nearly never came about.
Epstein: Hey, Ben, it’s Theo.
Cherington: Oh, hey, Theo. How’s it going?
Epstein: Mostly good. A little homesick, I guess.
Cherington: I’d have thought all the angst around here would have made you glad you got out.
Epstein: It’s not the ballclub I miss, Ben. Just home. [sings quietly:] As time goes by…
Cherington: I don’t follow.
Epstein: Just been thinking about family, that’s all. And Monet’s Water Lilies at the Boston MFA. I love that painting. Really miss it.
Cherington: They’ve got another version of it at the Chicago Art Institute, you know.
Epstein: I don’t know, Ben, it’s not the same.
Cherington: Funny you called me, I was just about to call you. But then, you were always a step ahead of all the other GMs, weren’t you, Epps?
Epstein: Oh, I don’t know about that. I doubt we’re gonna catch the Astros for the number one pick.
Cherington: Maybe I can help with that.
Cherington: I’m putting some big tickets on waivers today. Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett.
Epstein: It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that.
Cherington: They’re not that little, and they’re the biggest hill in Beantown—and I can’t climb it. I gotta get ’em outta my clubhouse.
Epstein: You realize I have the guy I traded to get Gonzalez, don’t you? Not to mention the executive I traded him to, I might add.
Cherington: Of course I do. So how about A-Gon for Rizzo, straight up. A nice full-circle thing. Rizzo back in Fenway, after all.
Epstein: No, Ben, you don’t get it. Jed and I both wanted Rizzo all along. It was Lackey who forced us to do the Gonzalez deal.
Cherington: Lackey? How?
Epstein: He can be very persuasive. He starts talking and, next thing you know… Back when I signed him, I offered him two years, 20 mil, next thing I know it’s five and 82.
Cherington: How’d that happen?
Epstein: Dunno. Something about A. J. Burnett, I think. And he kept quoting Emerson. “Experienced men of the world know very well that it is best to pay scot and lot as they go along, and that a man often pays dear for a small frugality.” That kind of thing.
Cherington: And you bit?
Epstein: Emerson was from Boston, Cher. Kind of got to me.
Cherington: So you’re not interested in Gonzalez, then?
Epstein: Ben, I’m trying to make my club worse, not better. You know that.
Cherington: But in terms of QPR, Gonzalez is exactly what you want. Look at the season he’s having. He’s one of the worst values for the money out there.
Epstein: If you’d talked to me a couple months ago, maybe. But he’s been hitting. Anyway, he’ll hit more homers here at Wrigley, without the Green Monster taking away his oppo taters.
Cherington: When you signed him, he said he was looking forward to hitting doubles off that thing.
Epstein: I asked him to say that at the presser. Doubles don’t win MVP Awards, Cher. You know that. I don’t want A-Gon again. He might play too well for me.
Cherington: But you can rebuild around him, and I can rebuild around Rizzo in the organization that drafted him. Surely you can see the beauty there. Plus, A-Gon’s going to be the better player over the long haul. You must have known that. You extended him yourself.
Epstein: That was really John Henry’s thing.
Cherington: Alright, what about your thing?
Epstein: What do you mean, “my thing”?
Cherington: Oh, come on, Epps, don’t be coy with me. You know you had a crush on Crawford for years before you got him. Don’t you want him back?
Epstein: He’s having TJ, right?
Epstein: You swear? You better not be lying to me.
Cherington: It’s true.
Epstein: Well, I could see the value of that.
Cherington: So what do you think? Gonzalez and Crawford for Rizzo. You’ll look like a bandit.
Epstein: Are you covering salaries?
Cherington: Can’t do it, Epps. The whole point is clearing my books.
Epstein: No dice. I’ll look like a moron. Though I might think about this if you’ll take Alfonso Soriano.
Cherington: But Sori’s having a good year.
Epstein: Look, we’re both trying to rebuild, right? Put our own stamp on things?
Cherington: Of course.
Epstein: Well, in order to dump quality, you’ve got to take quality, Ben. Besides, you’ll be out from under Soriano’s contract in two years. If I make this deal, I’m stuck with Gonzalez until the end of time. If he declines, I look like a permanent chump, don’t I, Ben? I’m just trying to look like one for the time being.
Cherington: You want me to take Garza, too?
Epstein: Hmm. Tough gamble. Not sure how his recovery will go. I’m hoping to get an all-clear on his med, go to arb with him, settle for about 15 mil, and then discover in spring training that he needs TJ, after all. I like the idea of having two big contracts hung on TJ guys.
Cherington: What if he turns out to be healthy, though?
Epstein: Yeah, I know. I could regret it.
Cherington: Think of it like this. Who has the better chance to suck next year, Garza or Beckett?
Epstein: I’m picking up what you’re laying down.
Cherington: So, Beckett, Gonzalez, and Crawford for Soriano, Rizzo, and Garza.
Epstein: I need to make this look worse for me. Take Michael Bowden, too.
Cherington: Oh, yeah, I always liked that guy. Hey, wasn’t I the one who told you to draft him?
Epstein: Yeah, so now he gets to go back home to Boston with Rizzo. And you don’t look quite so bad for trading him to me for Marlon Byrd.
Cherington: Oh, I knew about the estrogen blocker before I got Byrd from you. I also knew about Other Chris Carpenter’s elbow.
Epstein: I realize that now. I congratulate you.
Cherington: What for?
Epstein: Your work.
Cherington: I try.
Epstein: We all try. You succeed! Hell, I wasn’t even sure you knew it wasn’t Real Chris Carpenter!
Cherington: Oh, come on, Epps. If I didn’t, that’d reflect badly on you.
Epstein: Yeah, but that’s what I want right now. I want to look bad. I want to look like I’m throwing out the babies with the bathwater.
Cherington: That makes two of us.
Epstein: If I’d known you’d be tearing it down, too…
Cherington: I’ve always been in your shadow, Epps. Look how much farther along you are than I am. I’ve still got good players here.
Epstein: If Garza hadn’t gotten hurt before the deadline and Soriano hadn’t refused to waive his no-trade—I’d practically be done already, Cher.
Cherington: I kind of love it when you call me Cher.
Epstein: Remember at that Christmas party in ’07 when we both put on wigs and did “I Got You Babe”? And then later on you lip-synced “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”?
Cherington: I did that?
Epstein: You’d had plenty of sidecars by then. You probably don’t remember.
Cherington: Gypsies, tramps and thieves. Kinda sums us up, doesn’t it, Theo?
Epstein: Tell you what. I’ll throw in Justin Germano, too, so you can have him back. It’ll be a heartwarming back-to-Boston type thing for him and Rizzo and Bowden.
Cherington: I just sold Germano to you a month ago.
Epstein: He threw a perfect game, Cher.
Cherington: In Triple-A. Last year. With the Indians.
Epstein: Exactly. You can look twice the fool this way. You took back two pitchers you just gave me, so it’ll seem like I’m toying with you. And you can make like maybe you thought Germano’s perfecto was in the bigs, confused by all the perfect games in the majors these days and figuring one of them was his. You have to be willing to make yourself look bad, Cher. Not just the team. You can even script a little press conference flub where you make it seem for a second like you thought you were getting Real Chris Carpenter from me instead of Bone-Chip Chris Carpenter. It’s like a double-double-cross.
Cherington: Oh, man, you guys should get Real Chris Carpenter from the Cardinals and then we can trade injured Chris Carpenters. And you pick up half his salary, and then no one will be able to tell which one of us is the bigger sucker.
Epstein: Now you’re getting it.
Cherington: And we can just keep trading injured players: Carpenters, Crawford, Garza.
Epstein: Too bad I haven’t still got Xavier Nady.
Cherington: So… do we have a deal here, Epps? Whaddaya think? Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez for Soriano, Garza, Rizzo, Germano, and Bowden. Not only that, I’ll send Bone-Chip Chris Carpenter and Aaron Kurcz back to you, and you send Jair Bogaerts back to me, and that undoes Selig’s entire compensation package for you.
Epstein: That’s a wow finish, Cher.
Cherington: All you have to do is put in the waiver claim, Theo.
Epstein: Oh, I don't know what's right any longer. You have to think for both of us.
Cherington: I am thinking for both of us. This is win-win. You get rid of your problems, I get rid of mine.
Epstein: Alright, Cher, I’ll do it. Why the hell not.
Epstein: But I think there’s something missing from this deal. I think it needs a little more compensation, a little more tit for tat.
Cherington: Aceves for Marmol? You got it.
Epstein: No, Cher, I’m thinking of another challenge trade. I’m thinking Epstein for Cherington.
Epstein: Serious as a letter of transit, Ben. Think about it. You get out of my shadow in Boston and bring Gonzalez here with you. You push your buttons here from a few years—I’ll even extend Starlin Castro before you get here—and finally win this franchise the World Series it doesn’t deserve. And you’re a legend.
Cherington: I thought you wanted to be the legend.
Epstein: I’m already a legend, Cher. Eighty-six years. If I don’t do the same damn thing in Chicago, I’m a failure. Pull off one miracle, you’re a savior. Pull off two, you’re a consultant.
Cherington: But what about the cause, Epps, the cause to Ending the Wrigley Hex?
Epstein: I’m the only “cause” I’m interested in. This is business, Ben, not goddamn charity. I can’t win here. You can win here. You can win with Gonzalez. And I can go back to Boston with my guys, with Bowden and Rizzo and Germano, and start clearing my good name. They’re saying I left the place in tatters. They’re saying it was Duquette who built those World Series champions in ’04 and ‘07. I got work to do, a reputation to restore—I’m a prodigal son. I belong there, don’t you see?
Cherington: When you put it that way…
Epstein: And I can see my Water Lilies again. That’s all I want, Ben. You keep Bogaerts, and I’ll keep Bone-Chip Carpenter. Don’tcha see what the real compensation package for Theo Epstein is, Ben? It’s Theo Epstein.
Cherington: I feel dizzy over here, Theo.
Epstein: You feel dizzy because you’ve been spinning around the solution this whole time and you’re only just now seeing it. You and I both need letters of transit out of our lousy gin joints.
Cherington: We’ll still be in lousy gin joints.
Epstein: But that’s my lousy gin joint. Maybe it’s dingy and maybe I’m a cut-rate parasite and just a poor corrupt official, but the only place where I can be what I am is Boston. It’s home, Ben. I grew up in the shadow of Fenway. You grew up in the shadow of Theo Epstein. The difference between us is you can escape your shadow. I can only go back to mine.
Cherington: But you already resigned once, Theo. Way back in ’05. You said your heart and soul weren’t in it.
Epstein: It hasn’t had a damn thing to do with heart and soul since I traded Nomar and signed Edgar Renteria and Alex Gonzalez and Julio Lugo and Nick Green. So we ran into a coupla World Series. Those World Series are why you’re in the mess you’re in now, Ben. You’ve got to get out, and give yourself a chance, and let me go back where I belong! I’ve already sent a plane for you, you and Beckett and Gonzalez and Crawford, and if that plane leaves the ground and you're not with them, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.
Cherington: Alright, Epps. I’ll do it.
Epstein: Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Cherington: But we’ve known each other for years. Who the hell is Louie?
Epstein: I mean, Ben. Oh, and Cher?
Cherington: Yeah, Theo?
Epstein: I want Nick Punto, too.
Cherington: Absolutely not. Deal’s off, you manipulative jerk. You’re wasting my time. [hangs up angrily]
Epstein: [to himself] Dammit.
Cherington: [to himself] Wait a minute. He called me.