by Cary Greene.
October 25, 2022
Should Aaron Boone be Back in 2023? How about Brian Cashman?
My short answer is that this question is moot because Hal Steinbrenner just isn’t a baseball guy like his father truly was and this is why both Boone and Cashman will absolutely be back in 2023. Perhaps Hal will feel his team was simply devastated by injuries again and couldn’t recover.
For those that want a double patty on their burger along with a few slices of bacon, some lettuce, onion, extra pickles and thick cut of tomato today though, I’ll expand my answer in the hopes of helping Yankees fans bring their expectations into focus after their favorite team was buried alive in the Bronx as the hated Astros swept them without even breaking a sweat.
Here's the real reasons WHY both Boone and Cashman will be back. First, I have to vet the inevitable argument that will suggest that Hal Steinbrenner is a terrible owner because he’s nothing like his father.
While George “The Boss” Steinbrenner was not without his faults, which his son Hal seems to be quite aware of and clearly not willing to emulate, he was far from a perfect owner. Hal obviously grew up interacting with his father on a daily basis and he may have decided at a young age to take a quite different path.
I often wonder, did George ever try to fire Hal as a son, like he did with his on the field Managers and GM’s (said tongue-in-cheek). Perhaps Hal watched all the grizzly rants and terminations as he grew up and just decided to find a better way to operate when he took over the pinstriped monster.
George cared deeply about winning championships. It seemed that was his goal every season. In my estimation, that’s what’s innately different between father and son in this instance.
Under George Steinbrenner’s leadership, the Yankees posted an MLB best .566 winning percentage while winning 11 American League pennants and 7 World Series championships.
Based on the results, who among us can question that Hal isn’t a fine leader. He employs smart people and that team has built a money-making empire which has done nothing but increase its net worth since he took over and according to Forbes, the Yankees are now worth a tic over $7-billion.
Hal runs the team as a business, which it undeniably is, and “oh-by-the-way," the Yankees have a .576 winning-percentage since control of the Yankees passed to Hal officially in the 2008 offseason - so he’s actually won at an even higher clip than George managed to, with the only disparity being that Hal has only won a single championship, back in 2009, and his father won seven. Clearly, George knew how to win. He just did. Whereas, Hal doesn’t seem to understand winning.
I’d argue that Analytics people don’t know how to win either by the way. Real baseball people, people who have won championships frequently in the past, do though. How else can anyone explain Dave Dombrwoski’s Phillies this season, a team guided by a manager who is a baseball lifer - in rookie manager Rob Thomson? We can also illustrate this point with the job Dusty Baker has done with the Astros this season, taking over a franchise in disarray and doing nothing but win at a high level with it.
Perhaps the real difference between the father George and the son Hal in this case is that Hal is calmer, more supportive, and less prone to emotional outbursts? Otherwise, this father and son tandem have done a pretty solid overall job as team owners. Maybe George made the public believe that he ran the team like a fan would run it, whereas with Hal, the public believes he runs the team more like a business?
Did George really know how to win though, or did George hire a guy by the name of Gene “Stick” Michael who did? Perhaps this is the real difference between George and Hal. Hal values a thrifty GM and likes to promote positive media relations more than he prioritizes letting actual baseball people run the team.
Winning World Series titles are things fans concern themselves with. Perhaps Hal Steinbrenner thinks that if the Yankees knock on the door long enough, something is bound to go right. We all know that the Yankees are a virtual lock to make the playoffs more times than not. What would Gene Michael's reaction have been if a group of analytics people suggested that Yankees should put together a predominantly right-handed lineup and starting rotation?
Would he have requested that the left field fence be moved back 200 feet? Or would he just have laughed good naturedly and then went about drafting the best available left-handed pitchers and hitters?
Operating the team with an apparent strategy of being a successful baseball team year in and year out, Hal Steinbrenner clearly wants to have a good winning percentage each season. He hasn't demonstrated a willingness to spend excessively and it appears that he refuses to do that because it’s just not a sound business play. He also clearly knows that making the playoffs is pretty easy for a big market team and that’s basically what he needs the Yankees to do. He spends to ensure the team is very good, but he doesn’t spend to make it great.
Fans don’t seem to realize that since 1903, World Series champs by any measure aren’t the best statistical team in the League. Past champions average having the fourth-best Team bWAR (47.4), the sixth-best offense as measured by OPS+ (104.1) and the fifth-best pitching, as measured by ERA+ (113.31). According to World Series history, being “good enough” is certainly important, but actually winning requires a champion to rise from good to great as the playoffs unfold. Doing this in today’s game requires a roster that’s built to dominate three or four short series.
Spending does ensure the Yankees will be good, it's actually a simple baseball fact that very few teams who refuse to spend much will be able to have a good winning percentage and this concept largely holds true year in and year out.
This season for example, the highest spending teams in baseball can be divided into tiers to illustrate this point. The higher spending teams were just flat-out better. Sure, certain one-offs didn’t live up to that decree, but we can forgive the Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, Giants, Cubs and Rangers this season. Likewise, we can applaud the Rays and Orioles for making things interesting this season.
Predicting the playoffs field was pretty easy this season, as it is every year really. The below scatter plot chart that Dr. EJ Fagan and I collaborated on recently illustrates the relationship between a team’s 2022 payroll and their winning-percentages. In many ways, this chart depicts what’s really wrong with the game of the game of baseball because the basic rule is, spend and you win, don’t and you lose! As you can see, the cluster-point chart isolates the playoff teams - the Dodgers, Mets, Yankees, Astros, Phillies, Padres, Cardinals and Blue Jays based on their budgets while the Rays and the Guardians are the only blips on the radar that managed to crash the postseason party and whom we can’t really explain merely using payroll spends.
The scatter-plot chart reflects the below table’s data and both show that aside from both the overachieving Rays and Guardians, spending north of $158-million was a prerequisite for making the 2022 MLB playoffs. A spend of that magnitude of course didn’t guarantee a spot in the playoffs, but without it teams need great scouting, phenomenal team leadership and roster construction and superb player development.
Higher-spending teams will play a schedule filled with lower spending and thus, inferior teams year in and year out and therefore, the higher spending teams will ultimately be more successful with each passing season. Higher spending teams will mostly make the playoffs.
The more I see Hal Steinbrenner’s Yankees in action, the more I understand how he runs the team. Hal knows the Yankees will make the playoffs with regularity and that’s what he needs them to do in order to make them profitable.
We writers can lobby with the written word all we want, but it won’t change what is. Hal Steinbrenner runs the Yankees. Since there’s no guarantee that max-spending will win a World Series, Hal isn’t really that motivated to sacrifice profits and pay the extremely high competitive balance taxes associated with violating the highest tiers of the Luxury Tax Thresholds.
In business, oodles of “bad” leaders are tolerated simply because “the boss” likes them. These “bad” leaders interface with higher-ups well and clearly run things as the higher-ups want them to be run. I’m not insinuating Steinbrenner, Cashman, or Boone are bad leaders, but my point is that Steinbrenner is quite happy with the job Cashman and Boone did this season.
Yankees fans, perhaps older ones who expect a “championship or bust'' result may not appreciate Steinbrenner’s “We did a good job but we want to better” speech that he gives with different words each season – and trust me folks, that speech is “a-coming” yet again!
Perhaps Brian Cashman, who truth be told is better suited to be Team President than he is General Manager, should be promoted so that he can work even more closely with Hal Steinbrenner. Randy Levine just completed his 22nd season as the Yankees President and seeing as he’s going on 68-years-old, is it time to bump Cashman up in the hierarchy and try to interject a new GM, with stronger roster-building acumen into the organization, then hire a new manager with stronger on-the-field leadership qualities than Aaron Boone?
I’d argue ,“yes” all day long, but the reality is, the answer is as resounding a, “NO” as you will ever hear. Understanding why is very important for Yankees fans to fathom this offseason, because folks, we go through this same old thing every offseason. Are we really going to do it all over again?
Haven’t we come to understand the reality of the New York Yankees yet?
Cashman needed a “yes-man” and Boone, who has been called Cashman’s puppet, performs his function. He was hired because of this. Cashman had no interest in promoting a minor league manager like Doug Davis or Dan Fiorito, who perhaps would have been better equipped to motivate younger players whom he already had existing relationships with. He didn’t want an experienced manager either, like Buck Showalter.
Cashman needed someone he believed was equipped for a very particular role. On the field, the Yankees are not “managed” by the manager. They’re managed ahead of time, by analytics and there’s a very good chance that those same analytics people feed Boone directions “live” and in-game. I’ve said half-kiddingly that the Yankees are really run by “kids with I-Pads” but the truth is, real baseball lifers don’t run the Yankees.
Analytics runs the Yankees and that’s the path Hal Steinbrenner has chosen for the Yankees. He’ll never change running the team this way. It just won’t happen.
Yankees insiders and long-time fans who follow the team closely basically know how things work on the inside. Many of the decisions Boone makes might not actually be his moves, at least not entirely. He likely does very little 100-percent on his own.
We all know the Yankees Front Office maps out in advance how the bullpen should be used in a given game. We also know it's Boone’s job to manage but only so long as he does so in lock-step with whatever the plan is. Then, when the dust settles and the game is over, it’s Boone’s job to do what he was really put in place to do. He answers questions about the decisions that were made. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t.
In effect, Boone shields both the front office and the players from public criticism. He even gets a tiny bit testy with the media when things go wrong, but never does he point the finger, instead, he comes up with valid reasons why things could have gone differently and points to the future, imagining out loud how things will be better next time. That’s Boone’s “schtick” and he’s very good at delivering various messages to this effect as the season goes along.
I wonder if even a single Yankees fan has wondered what it might be like to sit facing a few hundred cameras and microphones and have to answer each and every bloody question that the reporters ask – after every single “bleepin’” game! Doing that would wear most baseball lifers out very quickly. It clearly grated on Joe Girardi during his nine-year run in the Bronx.
Personally, I think Boone is simply a byproduct of Brain Cashman trying to let analytics really run the team while focusing on co-existing with team ownership, pacifying the needy New York media and recognizing that today’s millionaire players need to be mollycoddled.
We know that the media isn’t changing. They’re going to analyze every moment of every game, day-in and day-out. They’ll be waiting for answers all the while, all the time. The media in NY is omni-present, there’s no escaping it either. Why not pacify them on a daily basis with a healthy dose of Aaron Boone? He’s well-suited for the job! He keeps the media happy. Can you imagine Billy Martin talking to today’s media in a way that would “play” (work). I can’t.
We all know Hal Steinbrenner isn’t making any changes with Brian Cashman and we all know Brian Cashman isn’t going to risk hiring a manager that would point the finger in his direction or the player’s directions. This is why I suggest that the idea of changing Yankees leadership is moot. It would never happen.
The team is being run the way the team needs to be run to exist and make money. Hal Steinbrenner is cool with that. He knows he’s spending enough to win consistently and he knows this BECAUSE MOST OTHER TEAMS DON’T/WON’T/CAN’T spend as much as he does. Sure, a few will outspend him but who cares?
If Steinbrenner were to match the highest spending teams, he’d forfeit millions of dollars of profits and he’s okay with not winning a paper title. Fans will keep coming to games if he keeps putting a winning team on the field. Things are going along perfectly well.
As far as failing to win the World Series? Seriously?? There’s always next time! “Things will be different!” “We haven’t met about this yet!” “We’re going back to the drawing board.” “We have work to do.” “We weren’t quite good enough.” “Injuries really hurt our ballclub this year.” –We’ve all heard each and every possible end of the season statement multiple times already.
That’s why Steinbrenner has Cashman and Boone in place! Please ask yourselves this question, Yankees fans: Are you seriously going to listen to Cashman’s and Steinbrenner’s year ending media sessions and expect change to occur? Seriously? Are you?