Thoughts After a Busy Day in Yankeeland

Yesterday was a very busy day in Yankeeland. The busiest it will get until the Winter Meetings, most likely, or until they make a big splash in free agency. First, the Yankees re-signed Aaron Boone to a three-year contract with a fourth-year option. Then, after that was announced, Brian Cashman and Boone both addressed the media for their end-of-year press conferences.

Lots going on! Much of it was significant, too. Let’s get to some thoughts, shall we?

1. The Boone Decision: Well, the Yankees have their manager. As I noted yesterday, this was both unsurprising and uninspiring. The longer this process dragged on, the more likely it was that Boone was returning – and that was before the Yankees announced the coaching staff changes last week. Many of us hoped for a different outcome, but Boone returning was always the most likely scenario. Whether we like it or not, the Yankees clearly believe Boone is the right guy for the job. In that sense, it was very unsurprising to hear that he is returning for three (possibly four) more seasons at the helm.

Still, that does not mean the decision was inspiring. Quite the contrary, in fact. I feel pretty strongly that bringing Boone back was a mistake, even with the caveat that it is really, really hard to honestly evaluate managers from where we sit. There’s a lot to the job, and we only see a tiny fraction of it. But what’s the fun in that? Here’s my attempt at a fair overview of Boone’s strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths

  • Holistic Performance: Believe it or not, the Yankees are the third-winningest team in baseball under Boone’s tenure. They’ve twice won 100 games (2018, 2019) and have made the playoffs all four seasons he’s been skipper. Overall, the Yankees are 328-218 (.601) since 2018, which logs just behind the Dodgers (.634) and Astros (.612). That’s pretty good! It bests Tampa (.597), Boston (.564) and Atlanta (.569), all of whom are generally considered contenders. That is a pretty good run. From the Yankees’ side, you can see why they like Boone. If they believe the postseason is a crapshoot (they do), then they’re confident the balls will break the right way soon.
  • Internal Communication: As has been repeated over and over again, the Yankees consider Boone a top-tier clubhouse communicator, and they value that. It also seems clear that key members of the team, including but especially Aaron Judge, have their faith in him. Both of these areas are important, if again uninspiring. We can’t see them, so it’s hard to say what merit there is here. Personally, I’m not convinced that “communicating” is as important as it’s made out to be. The Yanks obviously disagree and were willing to move on from a proven leader in Girardi over it, though, so who am I? Regardless, this is obviously a big point in Boone’s favor from a Yankee POV.
  • Holistic Bullpen Use: I know, I know, but bear with me a second. If you look at the leverage index since 2018, it’s hard to quibble (in the aggregate) with Boone’s choices. He tends to use the right pitchers in the right spots from the 30,000 foot level. Among relievers with at least 40 IP under his tenure, the most likely to be used in a high-leverage spot are Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Loaisiga, Wandy Peralta, Chad Green, and David Robertson. (Zack Britton is just outside the top 5.) Peralta is a weird inclusion, but one I’ll charitably excuse given the fact literally every inning was high leverage in 2021. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a generally good proxy for managerial performance.

Weaknesses

  • October Performances: When Aaron Boone said that the American League “caught up” to the Yankees, it was a damning statement because it was true. The overall numbers are good, but the Yankees are trending downwards. There is almost no doubt about that. Under Boone’s leadership, the Yankees have been eliminated by the Red Sox, Astros, Rays, and Red Sox. That is absolutely unacceptable and it is a big reason why fans are so frustrated. The Yankees have often looked overmatched, out-managed, and outplayed in those series, too. I know there’s some element of chance involved in all four series, but it is still not great. The Yankees have championship aspirations, but they haven’t been able to clear the American League gauntlet. It is not a good look, and some of that has to fall on the manager. (In fact, he hasn’t even been able to replicate the 2017 success.)
  • Sloppy Play/Lack of Urgency: The Yankees sure are annoying to watch, aren’t they? They are top 5 in errors under Boone, and they make a ton of routine, fundamental mistakes. We all know how many outs they ran into this year on the bases. And we’ve seen mistakes like that time and again under Boone’s leadership. I think this is the fairest of critiques. The issues started in 2018, right when he started, and have not improved. The best teams do not make stupid mistakes constantly, but you cannot say that about the Yankees. I think this ties into an overall lack of urgency that starts with Boone. The Yankees always manage for tomorrow, and they were doing it as late as the last regular season series this year – when they weren’t yet clinched for the playoffs. That impacts bullpen management, load management, and I think overall team intensity. It is a real issue. That, too, lies a lot on Boone.
  • Key Players Have Regressed: When Boone took over the team, he took over an insurgent core that looked poised to win several titles. That has not happened, and nearly all of the non-Judge players have actually regressed. We’ve discussed this at length here, so no need to get into it in depth. (I will say that Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, and others are success stories that counter Gleyber and Gary’s regression.) We’ll see what happens when there’s a new coaching staff underneath him, too.

2. Organizational Complacency: Okay, with that out of the way, let’s move on from Boone. He’s the guy here now so there’s no point in wringing our hands over what I assume we all think was a dumb choice. What the Yankees do next will matter a lot. Cashman said yesterday that the Yankees are not as contact-oriented or athletic as they’d like. Now, we can read a lot into that if we want. It could almost read as a precursor to a roster overhaul. I don’t think that’s coming, though, even if they will obviously make adjustments to the team.

The underlying point here is what concerns me. The Yankees built this team basically on that exact philosophical foundation. Strikeouts don’t matter, walks and home runs are what really counts, and it’s fine to have an all right-handed lineup filled with similar style hitters. Philosophically, I don’t disagree with any of those in a vacuum. But there’s obviously a pendulum here, and the Yankees have likely swung too far in the other direction.

I don’t begrudge the Gallo trade – he was, honestly, the best player available – so I don’t think that’s a fair knock on the front office. They had to do what they had to do in 2021. That’s out the window now though. The Yankees are on the record as criticizing their own roster construction, and they’ve said what many, many fans have said. Now that they’ve agreed, I think they’ll have to make some moves to show that they can put their money where their mouth is. Many fans and analysts accuse the Yankees of arrogance and complacency. I’m not sure how fair either are – after all, I thought the Yankees would win something like 105 games this year – but they’ve publicly put their stake in the ground as a front office. I think they have to back it up now.

That’s especially true following the Boone hire, which they knew would agitate fans. They’re not stupid. Boone is persona non grata around the Yankee internet right now, fairly or unfairly, and they brought him back anyway and talked about shoddy roster construction in the presser. If they’re not willing to shake it up a bit somehow – we’ll detail how that’s possible soon – then there are likely going to be some ugly scenes in the Bronx next April if the Yankees get off to a slow start.

3. The Obvious Hole: Cashman said it, and we’ve all known it for a while: the Yankees need to improve at shortstop. It’s a no-brainer. Fortunately, there are three excellent shortstops on the market this year in Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story. I’d personally prefer Correa (I know, I know) but I’d be fine with any of the three. Getting into the pros and cons of those choices doesn’t really matter though. What I want to convey is the urgency with which the Yankees need to pursue their chosen target.

While their “we don’t know the budget but we’ll spend” rhetoric is infuriating, it’s not worth caring about. They’ve reset the luxury tax, publicly identified a clear need, and are now entering a free agency period with obvious solutions to that need. That sounds like the 2019 offseason to me, when they went hard after Cole. I honestly expect the same thing to happen this year with one of the big three shortstops.

I have been critical of the Yankees spending, and it’s fair to be, but we all did the whole pre-mad routine in 2019 with Cole. “You’ll get [inferior pitcher] and like it”, went the jokes on Twitter. Well, we got Cole. The bigger issue was that Cole was the only move they made that offseason. I fully expect one of the shortstops to be in pinstripes next year. It’s what they do around that move – be it getting a more reliable 1B, bolstering the rotation, finding a replacement at catcher, trading Joey Gallo, etc. – that will be most illuminating. It’s going to be an interesting offseason, that’s for sure.

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16 Comments

  1. chip56

    Some thoughts on your thoughts:

    1. I agree, it was always likely that the Yankees were bringing Boone back because managers with some name cache who don’t have enough pride to really care that they are puppets don’t grow on trees. I find it entirely plausible that Boone wasn’t informed about the changes to his coaching staff until after they were made. Cashman wants a manager who can handle the media and doesn’t care that he has almost as little power within the organization as I do.

    2. The 100 win seasons are a mirage. In Boone’s first several few years on the job many of the teams that are now competitive were in full tank mode. The Yankees feasted on those AAAA lineups and rotations and then got shelled in the playoffs by real contenders.

    3. Gary Sanchez has been regressing ever since the Yankees fired the only person in the organization willing to hold him accountable and push him to work (Girardi). Once that decision was made, Gary went into full coast mode because the organization had just told him he was bigger than the manager.

    4. The problems the Yankees have had are not with Boone. As I said, he’s a figurehead, as involved with running the team as the Queen is in running England, the problem is that the Yankees have committed to an analytics department that does not have the best or brightest. If anyone, in any part of your organization, comes to you and says “here’s why we should add Rougned Odor” you fire that person on the spot. Period. Full stop.

    Hal doesn’t like spending the money that he worked so hard to inherit from his daddy, I get that. But in furtherance of that goal, he should be asking Brian why his analytics department has him spending money on bad baseball players.

  2. Joewhar

    I don’t post many comments but here goes. THANK YOU! All of the writers at 314 do an amazing job and I look forward to to your updates each day. My first Yankee Stadium memories go back to the early 1960s so I’ve seen lots of peaks and valleys (yes, I’m old). You guys keep the Yankee fan energy at a high level and keep it going throughout the off season. What you do is appreciated. Keep up the good work.

    • Not The Droids You're Looking For

      This is super wholesome and I’m here for it. I also like old(er) fans getting into the mix, so thanks for commenting.

  3. Give me an excellent defensive SS and I won’t care if he hits .210 with no pop. Wait, we got one in Andrew V/Wade who could hit .240 at least as regulars.
    In general Cash MUST get back to the “younger, faster, and more athletic” he espoused in the mid-2010’s. Why Greg Allen was banished to AAA never to return, when he sparked the team with speed, great D and aggressiveness I’ll never understand.

  4. Don’t underestimate the repercussions of letting Didi walk. What a stupid idea that was. We actually had an above average, young shortstop who hit in the clutch and was loved by the fans, and that hole was never filled in. Let’s hope it is filled in for 2022.

  5. God, I hope the new hitting coach can restore Gleyber’s hitting prowess.

  6. I think its very obvious that ownership and/or Cashman saw a young, exciting, talented core come up in 2017 and did not see Girardi as the man to lead them. The review that Gary BEGGED for in the ALDS in the Lindor AB that Girardi never called was the final nail in his coffin. However, I just don’t see how you can look at this team’s performance since then and think yup, Boone’s the man for the job.

    I wish I could get excited for this offseason, and I probably will but past performance is the best indicator of future performance and there has been nothing this team has done in the past 5 years that convinces me that’s gonna change. Even when they “splashed” and signed Cole, they didn’t address other needs like they should. I can’t wait to eat my words.

  7. dasit

    it’s dangerous to assume that “clubhouse communication” necessarily leads to good performance. i wasn’t the biggest girardi fan, but whatever “communication issues” existed, those teams played hard and generally avoided devastating mental lapses. having a “tight” manager never equated to them playing tight, whereas having a chillaxed manager may have contributed to this season’s sloppy play. on the other hand, it’s on the players to perform and judge’s opinion carries a lot of weight, so what do i know?

    • Bobby

      I agree. And call me a boomer, but I am also not convinced that your boss (which is what a manager should be) should necessarily be your friend.

      • dasit

        baseball is a grind and the 2013, 2014, and 2016 teams never mailed it in, even when it was clear they weren’t going anywhere. i remember appreciating that at the time

        • The Original Drew

          Especially the 2013 team. A group of legitimate replacement level players came in and gutted out 85 wins.

  8. Yanks317

    They were loaded up to $258m vs year two penalties for 2020. The CBA should make penalties lighter I assume (if not wow that would be a huge loss on the players side having the Dodgers and Yankees off the table once every 3 years is terrible for player salaries). They’ve publicly stated a need to change the roster, this could be a fun offseason.

    • Don’t try to lure me back in!! I agree they are poised for a splash but Cole aside, they have not shown the willingness to address the greatest needs with the best players available using their greatest advantage ($$$$$$). Until they do so I will reserve my offseason excitement.

  9. Richard K

    Great read Bobby. For all the Boone defenders This is the portion of what you wrote that really seals why he should be gone for me. “Sloppy Play/Lack of Urgency”. Cashman and Hal can put all the blame on the players (though I think they’re scapegoating to some degree), but this one squarely rests on Boone’s shoulders. We’ve seen for years now the letdown of balls getting by Gary and the mental lapses during plays. We’ve also seen a lack of hustle running to first (I know, he injured himself (eye roll). Meanwhile I’ve been watching lesser catchers in the playoffs like Maldonato and d’Arnaud making crazy blocks as if they’re the norm. I honestly don’t care if they land a catcher that hits .210 and hits single digit home runs as long as there’s not a single pitcher that doesn’t want to throw to him. Imagine how some of the old school managers would react to Gary’s visual lack of effort? Perhaps he is legitimately not cut out to catch? If that’s the case he’s in for a big problem as his bat isn’t good enough for DH or any other position you’d consider moving him to.

  10. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    1. It was the worst re-hire since George W, Bobby. Boone reminds me a lot of Neville Chamberlain to Alex Cora’s Winston Churchill. In times of war you need a killer and a strong leader, not some feckless appeaser. Joe Girardi has a much worse club one game away from the World Series in 2017, and if the Astros aren’t cheating he probably gets there. And Boone has just taken the club backwards every single year. Touting the regular season record is dumb because that’s not what matters and the Yankees outspend everyone in the AL. He’s deemed a good communicator because he lets the players do whatever they want and gives the media the same old cliches. We needed a disciplinarian to get in the face of lazy players like Gary and bench them when their play is sloppy. Gleyber started hitting when they moved him to 2nd and that shoulda been done much sooner. Boone kept penciling in Joey Gallo in the 5th spot to strike out 4 times a a game. Gallo is everything that is wrong with the game of baseball today. When they had Greg Allen, Florial and the Squid Boone was actually managing by stealing bases and sending runners. Joe Torre was always better because of Zim. Let’s hope they can eat least get an experienced hand like Don Zimmer by his side and who isn’t afraid to charge at Pedro.

    2. I begrudge the Gallo trade, Bobby. He’s the epitome of why Yankee baseball so so awful to watch today. Watch the NLCS and ALCS. Those are actually good games because those 4 clubs can put the ball in play, they steal bases, they can hit home runs but they also hit for average. That’s what made the late 90’s dynasty so great. Paulie, Tino, Bernie, Jorgie could all hit home runs but they all hit at least .280. Players used to take pride in .300 but now they get a bonus for hitting .200. Gallo reminds me of Chris Davis on the Baltimore Orioles whose career ended in disgrace. And Gallo couldn’t even catch fly balls. He was good for nothing but Italian memes.

    3. They need a good defender that can hit for contact, Bobby. Correa, Story, Seager would all be upgrades. They can at least hit .280 as long as the Yankee organization doesn’t try to turn them into boom or bust uppercut swingers. I think they did that with DJ and it got in his head and the same with Gleyber. Those two just need to be contact hitters with the occasional power. Seager hits left handed so he might be best to balance out the lineup. We also need a catcher that can defend and work with all pitchers on the staff and I don’t care if he hits. Package Gary and Gallo in a trade for a reliable catcher and a nose trimmer for Aaron Boone’s nostrils. Rizzo can be re-signed but then DJ/Gio are having to share 3rd base duties. Sign another starter who isn’t an injury risk and is less than 35 years old. Cash really needs to come through this offseason and give Boone a roster that even he can’t ruin.

  11. Jim

    If you don’t give Boone the most talented, most healthy roster in the world, he won’t win

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