Aaron Boone sounded like a self-help guru on endless loop. The Yankees manager met each new injury — and at times it felt like one a day — with statements of belief in the replacement and insistence that the goal of winning excellence did not change.
This is standard playbook. No leader is going to recommend panic or publicly state disbelief in the next man up. But Boone’s positivity and steadiness — because they are so central to his temperament — has resonated and helped the Yankees, to date, weather what has been a major league-high in games lost to the IL (471 through Monday) and money lost on the IL ($17 million-ish and counting).
“Obviously, I think [Boone] and his staff are doing a great job,” Brian Cashman said by phone. “They are reinforcing publicly what we believe privately. No panic. That we believe in what we have. We acknowledge that the lost guys were expected to do great things for us, but now there are opportunities for others we believe in and that is why they are here. From our earliest meetings in spring, we tell the players it takes a village, that we will be counting on all of them, we are here to win and take advantage of your opportunities. [Boone] has kept that message right on point. That is how he has gone about his business.”
A perception had formed Boone was a puppet of the front office and had a roster so talented anyone could win with it. I would argue that, yes, managers take on more information than ever from front offices, but that makes their jobs tougher. Because, among other things, there is so much information to digest and disseminate and because players must believe the manager is still the in-game decision-maker.
Boone seems to connect well with his players and he clearly has not had the expected talent yet in 2019. And let’s face it, if the Yanks were 14-20 instead of 20-14 through Monday, than Boone would be receiving blame. The Nationals, with their spate of injuries, were 14-20 and the heat is being turned up on manager Davey Martinez for not finding a way to keep winning. The Mets (36) had actually used more players than the Yankees (35) and were 16-19 as Mickey Callaway’s job status grows more tenuous.
Only the Pirates (17) had put players on the IL more than the Yankees (16). Yet the culture of winning regardless of events and environment that began with Buck Showalter and carried through Joe Torre and Joe Girardi now is being preserved by Boone. Boone’s hiring without previous — even coaching — experience after Girardi took the Yanks to Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS was controversial. Then Boone lost a division and ALDS to Boston’s Alex Cora, a fellow first-year manager whose maneuvering had a magical tinge. But the success of so many B-Team Yankees in 2019 is elevating Boone beyond the puppet phase.
“[Boone] is open-minded, has a presence about him, is extremely knowledgeable, has the family dynamic so he knows or is connected to everybody and, yes, he does have a great temperament,” Cashman said. “He has a real lot of strengths. We went off the grid and picked a really worthy candidate. Despite what has happened [with injuries], people have been in good position to succeed. You play with what you got and play to get best optimal outcomes. He works through permutations with staff who to play, where to play them and when to play them. With all the injuries, it takes real discipline not to overplay someone who is still standing.”
So Boone, to date, is the winner of the Yankees’ injury phase. The rest of a top 10:
2. Luke Voit
He is not Shane Spencer or Kevin Maas. Voit has backed up the strong finish last season with a start this year (.260/.373/.520, 10 homers, 24 RBIs) that is better offensively than that of Paul Goldschmidt (.252/.329/.468, nine homers, 24 RBIs), whom St. Louis obtained to play first base after never trusting Voit to do so. Remember when Voit was in a battle with Greg Bird for the first-base job?
3. Domingo German
He has pitched like an ace with Severino and now James Paxton out. He will have an innings cap this year, but Cashman would not divulge what that would be. I would suspect German does not go beyond 150 innings. The Yanks might need every one of them.
Clint Frazier wants to help Yankees more than ever before
4. Clint Frazier
He finally has showed what excited the Yankees to obtain him and if he continues to hit, the Yanks will have tough decisions when Aaron Hicks (possibly this weekend), Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge return from the IL.
5. Gio Urshela
When last season ended, you could imagine Miguel Andujar losing his job to Manny Machado. But Urshela? Strong defense and surprisingly high-end offense has made Urshela a regular piece of the lineup.
6. Tommy Kahnle
In July 2017 the Yanks gave up one of their best prospects, Blake Rutherford, mainly to get Kahnle, not Todd Frazier or David Robertson. Kahnle was so bad last year he was sent to the minors. But his fastball/changeup combo is back in order and is helping the Yankees endure the absence of Betances and the demotion of Chad Green.
7. Brian Cashman
The acquisitions of and patience shown with Voit, German, Frazier, Urshela and Kahnle demonstrates just how much the Yankees have transitioned away from solving every issue with impetuousness and money. And, of course, Cashman risked a lot to move on from a successful manager (Girardi) and tab the untested Boone.
8. Marcus Thames
The Yankees hitting coach and assistant P.J. Pillettere are presiding over a team that has a higher average (.257-.249) and on-base percentage (.340-.329) and a just lower slugging percentage (.451-.448) from last year despite not getting an at-bat yet from Didi Gregorius and Hicks and enduring extended IL stints for Judge and Stanton.
9. Gary Sanchez
Oh, that’s right, he is a special power hitter.
10. Brett Gardner
He was hitting just .223, but had a positive OPS-plus (103) because he had more walks (16) than strikeouts (15) and as many homers (6) as Bryce Harper while still being able to handle center field competently while Hicks heals. There were questions whether the Yanks should bring the veteran back. But he still is a contributor who along with CC Sabathia helps Boone keep the standards and expectations high for even an injury-ravaged Yankee roster.
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