Last night, word broke that the Yankees have chosen Aaron Boone as their next manager. My first reaction, like so many others (based on what I saw on Twitter) was that Brian, Hal and the gang had their holidays mixed up and thought yesterday was April 1. My reactions after seesawed between amazement and anger. If the most critical factor was that Brian Cashman can trust him because he came clean about tearing up his knee in a pickup basketball game 14 years ago, the team’s standards have dropped precipitously since George died.
Aaron Boone could turn out to be the next Casey Stengel. I truly hope he is. Like Boone, the Ol’ Perfessor was amiable, handled the press well and built a managing career from a bonehead move as a player.
Or, he could turn out to be the next Bucky Dent. Casey, of course, is in the Hall of Fame. Bucky, like Boone, was a middling player who is most remembered for one improbable home run. The Yankees gave him a chance to manage in 1989. It was a disaster, a debacle, an absolute horror show. And Dent had one thing Boone lacks: actual experience managing a professional baseball team.
Boone might also turn out to be the next Bill Dickey. Like Stengel, Dickey is in the hall of fame and has his number retired in Monument Park. Unlike Stengel, it was for his career as a player that he is enshrined. Dickey was the last player-manager the Yankees hired, and also the last manager the Yankees hired without any prior coaching experience. He took over a talented, young Yankee team (with future Hall of Fame players Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Joe Gordon and Yogi Berra) when Joe McCarthy decided he’d had enough of the front office’s meddling and quit 5 weeks into the 1946 campaign. Dickey only managed a third place finish, despite the talent he had on the team, and when owner Larry McPhail made it obvious Dickey wouldn’t be asked back in 1947, he quit with two weeks left in the season.
Hal Steinbrenner is trusting his general manager implicitly with this choice, and both he and Cashman are betting against all logic and history with Aaron Boone. The last rookie manager to win a World Series title was Bob Brenly in 2001, with Arizona. The Diamondbacks weren’t a young team, though. In all of baseball history, only 4 men have won a title in their first year managing: Brenly, Ralph Houk in 1961, Eddie Dyer in 1946 and Bucky Harris in 1924. By the way, Harris is the only man to ever win a World Series despite having never managed or coached a game in his life.
Make no mistake here: Cashman, who never met a statistic he couldn’t recite, knows everything I wrote above and probably a whole lot more about those failures, about how rookie managers tend to struggle even with experienced teams and coaching staffs. He isn’t betting so much that Aaron Boone is somehow magically imbued with enough baseball intelligence to overcome that history and lead this team to a championship.
No, Brian Cashman is betting that his own baseball intelligence and his faith in sabermetrics will win the Yankees their 28th World Championship. What Cashman needed was a mouthpiece, a stooge and (if everything falls apart) a potential fall guy. Boone checks off all those boxes beautifully. Anyone who has actually listened to Boone’s inanity during a broadcast will realize he’s a gleeful idiot. The writers know it; the fans know it. If the Yankees win, it will vindicate Cashman’s belief that systems win, not people. If systems are no better than the people running them… Well, Boone was hired to be a patsy.
Compounding the problem is that the Yankees are, by and large, a very young team. Their projected starting nine will average less than 3.5 years of major league playing experience. Communication with the media is undoubtedly an important skill in New York, and that’s the one area where Joe Girardi was severely deficient. But it isn’t the most crucial aspect of managing. The Yankees are gambling the development of their talented, young core on a guy who has never developed anything except the ability to eat hot dogs at the Little League World Series. But again, Boone isn’t being hired to manage this team. He’s being hired as little more than a pre- and post-game announcer. You can bet everything from line-up decisions to pitching changes will be phoned in from the front office on a daily basis.
Yes, Yankee fans. George Steinbrenner certainly engaged in some serious power tripping when he was alive. But not even George never went on a power trip like the one Brian Cashman is embarking on now.
With the end of the 2017 season, Yankees ownership has some decisions to make, perhaps none bigger than what to do about the General Manager and manager. Both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi’s contracts expire after this year, and the question is should either of them be offered the chance to stay in Pinstripes.
I don’t think anyone can reasonably argue that Yankees ownership would be suicidal to cut Brian Cashman loose. Since the Steinbrenner’s gave him full control over personnel decisions, the Yankees have become a markedly improved team. Shrewd trades and free agent signings have turned around the club in the Bronx. By keeping an eye towards the future as well as the present, Cashman also has the Yankees set up to make a major splash in the international free agent market this offseason and major league free agent market after the upcoming season, while getting the team’s payroll below the dreaded luxury tax threshold.
Several years ago, Cashman made improving the team’s minor league farm system a priority, which he’s done. Most baseball evaluators rank the system as one of the five best in the game, with several placing it in the top three. Even before trading for prospects such as Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier, the system was developing major league caliber talent, with this season’s youngsters of note (Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Luis Severino, Dellin Betances and Aaron Judge) all having been drafted and developed by the Yankees.
A general manager’s job is to put a contending team on the field, while ensuring payroll is kept manageable enough that ownership can be comfortable. Cashman has the team on the right track. Releasing him would be mistake.
Joe Girardi, like Cashman, is also on an expiring contract. Unlike Cashman, Girardi’s case isn’t as cut and dried.
A major league team’s manager can have differing responsibilities, based on the front office’s expectations. Some teams ask the manager to teach a young team to play at a major league. Others ask the manager to maintain clubhouse order and make a team of cast-offs and never-were’s respectable. Still others want their manager to get their team to the playoffs.
For the New York Yankees, the manager always has one job, and one job only: win. And winning means, win the World Series. Anything less is considered a failure.
This is Girardi’s 10th season as Yankee manager. In that time, his teams have been to the World Series once. Over that same period, the Giants have been three times, the Phillies twice, the Rangers twice and the Royals twice. That the team hasn’t been as successful on the field during his ten years isn’t entirely Girardi’s fault, though. But there is a case to be made that this season might qualify as his worst at the helm.
Most baseball fans have probably heard of “WAR,” even if they don’t fully understand it. It represents a player’s value above that of a typical “replacement” level player. (Fangraphs has a detailed and easy to understand explanation here.) A team full of 0 WAR players would be expected to only win 48 games (which would set a record for futility) but the idea is that if you can cobble together a roster worth 52 WAR, you should win 100 games. It can be argued that if a team wins more games than their cumulative WAR, then the manager positively influenced the final record. The same goes for the converse.
Another way of evaluating a manager’s effectiveness is by using a little known statistic called Pythagorean Won/Loss. It measures the numbers of runs a team scored and the number it allowed, and comes up with an expected win total. (When Bill James came up with this, it sparked a firestorm which still rages in sabermetric circles).
In 2017, the Yankees aggregate team WAR was 55.1, which would equate to a 103-59 record.
In 2017, the Yankees Pythagorean W/L record was 100-62.
In 2017, the Yankees actual record was 91-71.
Throughout the previous 9 years of his tenure, Girardi had been worth between 3 and 8 wins to his team; which is to say, the Yankees typically won 3 to 8 games more per year than they statistically should have. In 2016, he was worth around 5 wins to the Yankees. So it’s fair to ask, why did this year’s squad so badly underperform their stats?
I think there are some clues in Girardi’s postseason performance. Everyone is well versed in how badly he botched Game 2 of the division series against the Indians. But there were some decisions in the ALCS, especially regarding his handling of the pitching staff, that are head scratchers. Over the years, Girardi has earned a reputation as a manager who perhaps overly relies on statistical analysis, and not enough on what his eyes see happening on the field. The fans have even coined the nickname “Binder Joe” because of this tendency. And so we had an exhausted Tommy Kahnle trying to get out hitters with his fourth best pitch in Game 7 and a spent David Robertson left in to get pounded in Game 6. We watched a tired Luis Severino lose the strike zone in Game 6. We watched as the Yankees best reliever, Aroldis Chapman, was left in the bullpen in critical junctures of both games – and never get used at all.
It is entirely possible that while he relates to his players on a personal level (the way the team rallied around the manager in the LDS is testament to that), too many of the Yankees players in 2017 were too unfamiliar to their manager for him to properly gauge how best to deploy them during the season. The youth movement underway in the Bronx certainly revealed some of the young talents shortcomings, from Gary Sanchez’s defensive failings, to Betances’ mechanical woes and Judge’s prodigious strike-out totals. Girardi never seemed to be able to address those problems, or even willing to at times.
Those would all be reasons to dismiss Girardi, but I don’t think the Yankees should -or will. Removing Girardi because of one bad year would be shortsighted, I think, especially when over the course of his career he’s proven to be one the 5 best major league managers in the game. I do think, in light of the youth movement underway (I fully expect to see at least another 4 or 5 of the Baby Bombers in Pinstripes next season), Girardi will need to step up his game and leave the binders in his office once the game starts.
Dismissing Girardi also begs the question: who would you replace him with? As I said above, his history says he is one the 5 best managers in the game today. The Yankees are on the cusp of many playoff appearances and potential world championships to come. It’s not the time to gamble on an untested commodity, and I doubt the Yankees will be able to pry Tito Francona or Joe Maddon away from their respective teams.
So, for now, I think the Yankees will stand pat with their managerial personnel. They’ve brought the team this far. MIght as well give them the chance to finish the job.
It’s time to take a break from politics for a moment and concentrate on that other topic of extreme national importance: Baseball.
Specifically, the only team that really matters to the sport: the New York Yankees. Because let’s face it, whether you live in Alaska or New York, the Yankees are the team that drives MLB. They’re kind of like Barack Obama. You either love them or hate them, but you can’t ignore them. The last thing MLB needs is for their premier team, the one playing in the $1 billion stadium in the largest media market in the world, is to be irrelevant. Remember how wonderfully well the sport fared the last time the Yankees were irrelevant, about 25 years ago? The team in Montreal folded. The Twins and Marlins almost disappeared. Attendance and fan interest waned across the land.
Well, I hate to break the news to MLB, but the Yankees are fast approaching the point of not mattering again. After two consecutive years of not being contenders (and really, the last time they put a serious contender on the field was in 2010), the only news coming out of the south Bronx is that the Human Steroid is attempting to salvage the $60 million owed on his contract. Baseball doesn’t need any more of Alex Rodriguez‘ shenanigans, not after 2+ years of his mea culpas and Fred Astaire impersonations.
What MLB does need is for the Yankees GM, Brian Cashman, to stop sleeping and actually get to work rebuilding the team. The Yankees entered this offseason needing a shortstop, a second baseman, a right handed outfielder, and at least two starting pitchers. They also had to keep the back end of their brilliant bullpen together.
As of this moment, they need a shortstop, a second baseman, a right handed outfielder, and at least two starting pitchers. They also have to keep the back end of their brilliant bullpen together.
This is a nice way of saying that so far, Brian Cashman has done absolutely nothing to address the many roster holes left from the last 3 seasons of roster disasters. That might not be so bad in what is a declining American League East, except the American League isn’t declining any longer. In case you’ve missed it, Boston has done everything imaginable at this point to improve their club. Toronto has done an equally admirable job of improving. Tampa Bay has done what it needed to address the ennui that inevitably set in after a few overly successful seasons. Baltimore ran away with the division last year and made it to the ALCS.
It’s not that the Yankees need to go crazy on retooling, a la the Red Sox, and throw nearly $200 million at older players. But signing a Jon Lester or Max Scherzer would look pretty nice. It’s not that they need to swing a trade for Josh Donaldson, like Toronto, but a Ben Zobrist would look pretty good in pinstripes. It’s not that they need to to pry Andrew Miller away from Baltimore, but they can’t let David Robertson become a repeat of the Robinson Cano debacle from last year.
The Yankees made splashy, but ineffective moves last offseason. Jacoby Ellsbury is a good player, but wasn’t really needed – after all, Brett Gardner was rounding out into a solid center fielder with the same skill set. Carlos Beltran would have been a terrific signing – a decade ago. Brian McCann was a nice addition, but questions about how well the laid-back Southerner handles New York will continue until he proves he can. Besides, had Cashman not balked at resigning all-star catcher Russell Martin a few seasons ago, McCann wouldn’t be here.
In short, the front office pogues at MLB need to light a fire under Cashman’s butt. I say that, because it’s becoming more evident with each passing season that the Steinbrenner family can talk all they want about how they share their late patriarch’s desire to win, but the only thing they really care about is the money they’re making from their cash cow. But baseball as a whole needs the Yankees to be more than Hal’s personal ATM. As such, they need to tell Cashman to do something, anything. The roster is too bloated with over-the-hill player on bad contracts? Fine. Gut the roster. Pay off the old guys, bring up the kids for a season or two and start over. It might not be a win-now strategy but it would at least lend itself to some excitement in the Bronx.
Or if that isn’t palatable, then return to the “Steinbrenner Way” and aggressively pursue the best available talent. Go crazy, offer Lester and Scherzer $200 million each. Back up a Brinks truck to Nelson Cruz‘ door. Give Asdrubal Cabrera his own lane across the GWB. Heck, give the A’s everyone not named Gary Sanchez in exchange for Jeff Samardzija.
But whatever you do, don’t just stand pat – or even worse, let your own players walk away. This journey into nothingness does absolutely nothing for the Yankees or baseball.