Keeping Aaron Boone a Gamble for Yankees

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After a few weeks of uncertainty, the New York Yankees have decided they are keeping manager Aaron Boone. The team announced Tuesday that they re-signed Boone to a three-year deal after his current deal had run out. The deal keeps Boone at the helm through the 2024 season, and also includes a club option for 2025.

Yankees Keeping Aaron Boone

Boone’s job status was up in the air to begin the offseason. The Yankees had an up-and-down 2021 season, culminating in a disappointing 6–2 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the AL Wild Card Game. The New York sports media and Yankees fanbase placed blame on several parties, including Boone, GM Brian Cashman, and the underachievement of the roster. Ultimately, the front office pinned most of the blame on the latter, as Boone and Cashman each retained their positions. However, there was still a shakeup in the Yankees dugout at season’s end. Hitting coach Marcus Thames and third base coach Phil Nevin were each let go in recent weeks. Also, first base coach Reggie Willits left the Yankees to join the Oklahoma Sooners baseball program as an assistant coach.

At the time, these departures fueled speculation that Boone might also be on his way out. The Yankees’ front office, however, reasserted their belief in Boone’s managerial abilities. “I thought Aaron Boone was part of the solution. He wasn’t a problem or the problem,” Cashman said at a press conference Tuesday. Owner Hal Steinbrenner said in the team statement, “We have a person and manager in Aaron Boone who possesses the baseball acumen and widespread respect in our clubhouse to continue to guide us forward.”

Two Early Postseason Exits

Boone’s track record as the Yankees’ manager, on paper, has been excellent. In his four seasons, he has a record of 328-218 (.601 winning %). Further, New York has made the postseason in all four years. However, the last two years have been a slight regression based on preseason expectations. After losing in the ALCS in 2019, the Yankees were considered AL East favorites and World Series contenders before each of the next two seasons. In both years, they ended up with wild card spots, losing in the ALDS in 2020 and the play-in round this year.

Meanwhile, two of their division foes, the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays, appear to have surpassed the Yankees in the battle for AL East supremacy. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Boston. They ended up with the same record as the Yankees and outdueled them in a one-game showdown. Tampa Bay, with a much smaller payroll than New York, has compiled a significantly better record for two straight seasons and defeated them in the 2020 ALDS.

Does Belief in Boone Make Sense?

A 92-70 mark for a season, generally, is nothing to sneeze at. However, the 2021 Yankees lost many games they had no business losing. In several instances, the bullpen blew sizable leads. If even one of these games had gone differently, the Yankees would not have had to travel to Boston for the one-game playoff. Now ultimately, it is up to the players to execute, and they fell short too often this season. But Boone, for his part, has made questionable decisions with both lineup construction and managing the bullpen. Sometimes he’d stick with a reliever for too long who clearly didn’t have it that day. Other times, he’d put in an inexperienced pitcher in a crucial spot, even when better options were available.

It seems unusual to maintain a manager after firing a significant chunk of his handpicked coaching staff. But re-signing Boone shows that the Yankees’ brass believes the team’s current trajectory can be reversed. They must believe that tweaks to the supporting cast on the coaching staff and perhaps an offseason addition or two can put them over the top. Hal Steinbrenner’s approach is certainly different from that of his father, George. If the stated goal remained that anything less than a World Series wasn’t good enough, it’s hard to believe Boone would still have his position. As it stands, the Yankees have signaled their long-term faith in him. The pressure is now on Boone to help the Yankees leapfrog the Rays and Red Sox, and eventually win it all. If they don’t do it with their current core within three years, the top brass will most likely not be as forgiving.

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Managers/Coaches Mentioned:

Aaron Boone, Marcus ThamesPhil NevinReggie Willits