Opinion: The Yankees missed an opportunity to move on from a manager that has not improved enough
When new leadership comes into any position it takes some time to make it your own and bring your influence to it. In the case of sports and baseball specifically, people generally say that teams take on the personality of their manager. These few ideas are why I sit here very disappointed that the Yankees decided to not only bring back Aaron Boone but did so with a ringing endorsement by Brian Cashman and a 3-4 year commitment. Going back to those ideas, when Aaron Boone was hired as the manager, he was coming in with no experience and taking over a 91-win team that overachieved the previous year. A team with young talent that just pushed the juggernaut (cheating) Houston Astros to the brink in the 2017 ALCS. A team with all those young players that stepped up in the heat of battle well before anyone expected them to. Boone was brought in and expected to build on that and bring a team that had room to go and still got close to a World Series and get them over the hump. Well, its been four years and it hasn't happened yet. The primary reason is a hot topic of debate these days. While he surely isn't the only reason, Aaron Boone's presence as the manager is a contributing factor to the Yankees shortcomings over the past few seasons. Let's talk about why.
|Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports|
Before we get to the meat of it, let’s look at a key factor of why Aaron Boone drove so many Yankee fans crazy enough to call for his job: his general demeanor, especially after games when the team does not play well. Joe Girardi’s intense and high-strung demeanor is something the Yankee organization grew frustrated with, and they wanted someone to bring more harmony and an easy-going vibe to the locker room, but in the New York market there is more scrutiny on every game than anywhere else. Boone’s easy-going attitude does not do him favors when the media and the fans are looking for real answers. One of Boone’s most infuriating answers that popped multiples times throughout this past season was something like “They really competed” and basically saying 'well, they tried hard'. Boone gave this answer after some of the Yankees most lackluster performances, and it drove fans crazy. Amid all the boring and unfun games the Yankees played, fans wanted to see some fire, something to make it seem like they’re gonna snap out of it and that something was being done to hold players accountable and address the poor play. We didn’t want to see and hear basically what amounts to a shrug and “well we tried, and we really wanted to win”. We’ll never know what happens behind closed doors, and players have talked about Boone ripping into them after bad games, but we don’t get to see that. What we do get to see is Boone giving nothing burger answers after bad games and it makes it seem like they’re getting let off the hook. We don’t know how hard or soft Boone is on the players, but it would buy him a lot of credibility with the fanbase if he would just talk more openly and honestly with the press and the fans.
As the past few years have played out and Boone has seized more of a hold on this job, the Yankees have won a lot of games in the regular season and despite that have not had anything real to show for it in the postseason which is supposedly the only thing the Yankees care about. Not only do they not have even a single World Series appearance in the last four seasons, but they haven’t even made it as far as Boone’s predecessor did just before he was dismissed. Aaron Boone was hired straight out of the broadcast booth, with no experience as a coach at any level (other than his child’s flag football team). Boone has been exhaustively compared to Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was hired the same year. While both have had their successes and failures, Cora spent years as a bench coach with the Astros getting his feet wet. While we can argue about what a manager does or what the Yankees front office allows their manager to do, I don't believe it's arguable that Boone has not improved enough at this job and the Yankees are taking a significant gamble by committing to him again long-term.
Before we go any further, I do need to say, this past season Boone was handed a roster that was awkward at best. They were unathletic and very right-handed. Brian Cashman said the other day that this 2021 Yankees team was both “unstoppable” and “unwatchable” at different times, and he was absolutely right. That being said, Boone is still making errors and exhibiting behaviors that he has since his first game on the job and at some point, those need to go away. To address more recent issues, he and his coaching staff presided over a team that was not fundamentally sound in 2021. While 92 wins might’ve been somewhat of an achievement in some ways, it was still bitterly disappointing. It was even more so when you consider the countless games with leads that they gave away in the late innings. The 2021 Yankees featured multiple multi-run blown leads in the 8th and 9th innings of games, such as allowing six runs in the 9th inning on July 11th against the Astros and infamously, allowing seven runs in the 9th to lose to the LA Angels on June 30th.
All of this is to illustrate that this year, year four of his tenure, Boone has not improved enough at the in-game X’s and O’s of managing. Boone often seems slow or unable to adjust when the game goes off script. These days in MLB, front offices are heavily involved in planning and strategizing and for all types of scenarios. Sometimes though, those plans need to go out the window based on what is playing out in front of you. The front office can give a manager a dictionary of helpful stats and it won't matter if the person tasked with deploying them can't do it. Boone often seems slow in adjusting to new or unexpected game situations. Even though they don't often do the opener or bullpen games that other teams do, the Yankees very likely script out game situations and pitcher usage. There are some situations where Boone's choice of pitcher are so baffling that it feels like it was scripted and he just said "Well were gonna bring him in anyway, so we might as well still do it". We've been hoping for four years that this would go away or happen less frequently but it still happens with regularity and it puts the team in bad situations.
Something that I have felt bothered by from year one that I still feel he falls victim to regularly is trying to “steal outs” with lesser pitchers. Boone does this regularly and it always felt to me like he was trying to slip through an inning, hoping that it works out and then he’d go to his better guys. This strategy doesn’t work and it’s a habit I wish that they would stop building. We’ve seen it countless times and we saw it in one of the most important games of the season against Tampa Bay the last series of the season. With the team needing one win to clinch a playoff spot and trailing by one, Domingo German was running out of gas and who did he elect to bring in? Last man in the bullpen Albert Abreu, who promptly allowed some inherited runners to score, and the Yankees went on to lose a very winnable game. It is not a secret that the Yankees do not plan to win every game. They regularly rest their players in hopes that they will be healthy for the playoffs, but it’s one thing to run out a punt lineup and its entirely different to punt a game in the 8th inning by bringing in a lesser pitcher when you still have a chance to win. Having just completed his fourth season, he has not improved in any obvious way in his in-game management, and it costs the Yankees games. The team was one win short of hosting the Wild Card game and you can point to literally a dozen or more games that they lost with Boone’s fingerprints all over them as reason why they didn’t get that game at home.
I want to wrap this all up by saying, Aaron Boone the person is a genuinely nice man. A baseball lifer who as an individual, represents the Yankees well. He will never embarrass them, and I think the organization holds that in very high regard. That being said, Aaron Boone was not hired to be a press secretary or PR person, he was hired to manage the premier organization in MLB and win in the playoffs. When you hire someone to do a job they haven’t done before, they are going to make mistakes, but at some point, those mistakes need to go away. While it would be nice for him to say less of the same generic nonsense that he says often in his pressers, Yankee fans will gladly live with every platitude in the book if he would just get better at his in-game tactics. Its unclear what kind of candidate the Yankees would have pursued if they parted with Boone, but I don’t doubt that they could have found someone with coaching experience, someone who is more comfortable with the X’s and O’s of the game. Aaron Boone is still deficient in his game management, and it is a factor in why the Yankees have not accomplished their goals the past four years. The Yankees clearly feel that he still has room to improve or that his deficiency in this area is tolerable due to his representation of the organization or what he brings in other areas. Regardless of their reason, if they hope to win at the highest levels again soon, they had better hope that Boone improves more in the next three seasons than he has in the past four. If he doesn’t, then this offseason will represent a massive, missed opportunity.
Article by Matt GrazianoFollow @mattgraz930