The Off-Season: The Boone Landing Has Occurred. Will “Good Enough” Be Good Enough?
by Tim Kabel
October 23, 2021
I was planning to begin addressing the construction of the roster for the 2022 season in this article. However, recent events dictate that I alter course, slightly. First I must address the manager and coaching staff. I’ll discuss some roster decisions later in this article, but the focus, I think is the coaches first.
I had been advocating for quite some time that the Yankees replace Aaron Boone heading into the 2022 season. I was not part of the lunatic fringe on this topic. Many people agreed with me. Aaron Boone is about as popular with most Yankee fans as baked beans before a long bus trip. Yet, the Yankees are bringing him back. As I noted in my last article, this won’t just be for a year or two. Boone was signed for three more years, with a team option for a fourth year. At this rate, he could be in office longer than FDR! Why, oh why, would the Yankees do such a thing? To quote the late, great Yul Brynner in The King and I, “is a puzzlement.” In Spanish, puzzle is rompecabezas, which literally means a head breaker. That’s what this is. My noggin is about to explode trying to figure it out.
I have worked in the field of child protection and safety for almost thirty years. I remember a conversation with one of my bosses many years ago in which she discussed the concept of the “good enough” mother. This phrase was coined in 1953 by Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst. Winnicott observed thousands of babies and came to the conclusion that not every mother or parent is perfect. A child can develop and flourish with a mother who is less than perfect but, “good enough”. In fact, Winnicott concluded that children actually benefit when their mothers fail them in manageable ways. I have come to the conclusion that Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner have embraced the concept of the “good enough” manager.
To me and many other Yankee fans, Boone seems way out of his depth. Clearly, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner do not share that belief. They perceive him as an efficient, if not spectacular, steward of their team. They have identified more strengths than weaknesses in Boone. That’s why they brought him back. They believe that he is well-liked by the team and that he is an excellent communicator who has his finger on the pulse of the team. I do not share their vision. Nor do many other fans. However, it is a moot point. Boone will be back for the foreseeable future. We need to accept that and move forward. Although I am somewhat leery of the concept of the good enough manager, Yankee fans must hope the team will succeed despite Boone. To use the phrase I coined a few weeks back, Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner need to “Boone-proof” the team. What does that mean? Well, it means they have to create a team and a coaching staff that will win despite Boone. This process is already underway.
As of this writing, four of Boone’s coaches from 2021 have been jettisoned off the team. The first base, third base and two hitting coaches have all been let go. The replacements for those positions will be a good indicator of which direction the Yankees are headed. Phil Nevin, the third base coach, was one of Aaron Boone’s closest friends All four men were former players. If the Yankees were to hire more former players or friends of Boone to those positions, it would demonstrate a fierce loyalty to Boone and a commitment to his way of doing things. If, on the other hand, they hire a staff that is much more analytical and scientific in their approach, that would be an example of Boone-proofing.
Matt Blake is the poster boy for Boone-proofing. HIs expertise comes off the field. He’s not a former player but a student of pitching and pitching mechanics. The results in 2021 from his staff were impressive.
At this point, only Carlos Mendoza, the bench coach, Mike Harkey, the bullpen coach, and Tanner Swanson, the quality control and catching coordinator remain in key positions. Harkey was the bullpen coach for the Yankees from 2008 through 2013. Then, after a two-year stint as the pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he returned to the Yankees and resumed his role as bullpen coach in 2016. He predates Boone and due to the relative success of the Yankees’ bullpen, I don’t believe he is going anywhere. Swanson played four years of college ball and has a BS in Physical Education and School Health. He coached and lectured on the collegiate level. Prior to coming to the Yankees in November of 2019, he was the minor league catching coordinator for the Minnesota Twins from 2017 through 2019. He is another example of Boone-proofing.
Carlos Mendoza’s future Is the linchpin to the 2022 coaching staff. He has worked in the Yankees organization since 2009 and has been coaching on the Major League level since 2017. He became the bench coach in 2019. If he is replaced by someone who is either more analytical and scientific in their approach or someone who is more worldly and experienced, perhaps a former Major League manager, that would be another example of Boone-proofing. But, then again, Mendoza is a highly regarded baseball mind. This is a tough call.
I would imagine that regardless of what happens with Mendoza, the new coaches will be from the same mold as Matt Blake and Taylor Swanson. They will be analytical and scientific in their approach. That is the direction in which Brian Cashman is steering the team. It is probably one of the reasons why they retained Boone. He will not resist an analytical and statistics-driven coaching staff.
The construction of the roster will be another form of Boone-proofing. Brian Cashman has already stated he will be seeking a new shortstop. Keep in mind that the two prospects in the Yankees’ system who are closest to the Major League level are Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe, both of whom play shortstop. It is doubtful they will be ready to play in the majors next year, at least at the beginning of the season though Peraza may force the issue. The Yankees could very well sign one of the high-profile shortstops on the free agent market with the intention of eventually sliding him to third base. Corey Seager, who is a left-handed hitter, and the dreaded Carlos Correa would be prime candidates for that.
In the meantime, whoever the Yankees sign could play shortstop, it will impact the rest of the remaining infielders. There will be no room for D.J. LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Gio Urshela. If D.J. LeMahieu is positioned at third, Gio Urshela would most likely be traded. Another option would be to trade Gleyber Torres, put LeMahieu at second and keep Urshela at third. I don’t think it’s a question that LeMahieu will be on the team. Due to his contract, he would be difficult to trade. Besides although he had something of a down year, the Yankees are enamored with his hitting. Because of this, it essentially boils down to the Yankees keeping either Urshela or Torres. If the Yankees keep Torres, I would imagine that 2022 will be his last chance to prove he is a quality player. If he does not return to something close to his 2019 form, I believe the Yankees will trade him, and shift either Volpe or Peraza to second base.
Upgrades at first base and center field also seem likely. The improvement at first base may simply involve re-signing Anthony Rizzo. Luke Voit and his histrionics may well be on their way out of town.
If the Yankees solidify center field by getting someone who can consistently play and is athletic and versatile, that would be another example of Boone-proofing.
Acquiring another solid starting pitcher would do the same thing. The point is, they will upgrade the team sufficiently so it will ideally be less streaky and less reliant on managerial maneuvering and quick-thinking, which do not seem to be Aaron Boone’s strengths.
Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have clearly embraced the concept of the good enough manager. They have declared Aaron Boone to be remarkably adequate. It seems that if the right coaches are brought in and player upgrades to the roster take place that good things can happen. A manger, of course, is only part of the team. Remember, the incredible run they had last year after the All-Star break. If they can avoid the streakiness next year, they could win the whole ball of wax. I doubt anyone is ever going to say they won because of Aaron Boone’s masterful managing, but they might not have to have the greatest manager ever in order to win it all.
When Brian Cashman constructed the roster for 2021, he did not anticipate Luke Voit, the 2020 home run king being injured and missing the bulk of the season. He did not plan on Aaron Hicks being gone for the entire season. Clint Frazier was supposed to be the starting left fielder. Miguel Andujar was slated to be a role player. Zack Britton was injured and out for most of the year. There were others as well. Injuries are part of the sport and affect every team in one way or another but, if the Yankees had those missing players, they may have won enough games to at least host the Wild Card game. The team won 92 games. They were extremely streaky and lost several inexplicably gut-wrenching games. Some of those losses were directly attributable to Boone’s poor decisions. If Cashman sufficiently Boone-proofs the team next year, maybe they win those types of games, or at least most of them. In 2021, they only needed to win one of them to get home field for that Wild Card game.
This promises to be an interesting off-season.