Toronto Blue Jays: Yankees Retaining Boone Good News For Jays
By Charles Kime
Looking at the competitive landscape for the 2023 AL East, the announcement yesterday that the New York Yankees will retain Manager Aaron Boone should be viewed as positive news for Toronto Blue Jays fans.
“As far as Boone’s concerned, we just signed him and for all the same reasons I listed a year ago, I believe he is a very good manager,” Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner told the Associated Press Wednesday as he left the Yankees player development complex in Tampa, Florida. “I don’t see a change there.”
Clouds Hovering Over Boone Are Good News for the Blue Jays
But there is trouble brewing. MLB all-time saves leader, Yankee legend and Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera weighed in on manager Aaron Boone’s status as the manager in New York, and didn’t hold back.
Speaking at the Sports Forum of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives, Rivera gave his thoughts on whether or not Boone should return, translated from Spanish by SNY here:
"If I’m the owner, Aaron Boone wouldn’t stay… when things don’t come out the way we want them to all of the fault goes on the manager and somebody has to pay the price and we won’t put that on the players…"
Despite signing a three-year extension in October of last year with a team option for 2025, Boone’s future as Yankee manager had been up in the air after the team was swept 4-0 by the Houston Astros in the ALCS last weekend, and after they went 50-51 in their last 101 regular season games following a scorching 46-15 start through their first 61. In fact, the Yankees led the AL East by a whopping 15.5 games as late as July 8th.
Despite being the first person in MLB history to lead a team to the postseason in his first five seasons as manager, Boone is now only 14-17 in the playoffs; and, in a market with annual Championship aspirations, the Yankees haven’t been back to the World Series since winning in 2009.
“We didn’t get the job done … it’s time to get it done,” Steinbrenner said. “Any time we don’t win a championship, it’s a disappointing year. We had a lot of good ups, we had some downs, we had some injuries like everybody else.”
Could Boone’s Return Be Good News for the Blue Jays in 2023?
Just simply looking at the Blue Jays 46-28 (.622) record under new full-time Manager Schneider from July 13th would project to a 101-win pace over a full 162-game schedule.
The Yankees played .500 ball at 37-37 from July 8th, projecting to an 81-81 season. All else being equal, Toronto would have been 20.0 games ahead of New York over a full season at that pace.
Of course, that’s not necessarily a fair comparison given injuries to Yankees lead-off hitter DJ LeMahieu, their closer Michael King, and relievers Chad Green and Ron Marinaccio; injuries to CF Harrison Bader (acquired at the August 2nd trade deadline), plus 2022 All-Star LF Andrew Benintendi, who was acquired on July 27th, also meant the Yankees weren’t at full-strength down the stretch.
All while the Blue Jays were remarkably healthy in 2022. Apart from losing starter Hyun Jin Ryu in June to season ending Tommy John surgery, and the normal annual wear-and-tear IL stints for CF George Springer, catcher Danny Jansen, utilityman Cavan Biggio, and OFs Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., they avoided major injuries this season.
Further, apart from pending free agents in RHP Ross Stripling, reliever David Phelps and 4th OF Jackie Bradley, Jr., and depending on potential offseason moves, the young Blue Jays roster (average age of 27.1 on Opening Day 2022) could return largely the same in 2023, with another year of experience -including a brief taste of postseason baseball and meaningful games down the stretch – under their belts.
The Yankees, who averaged 30.4 years of age on Opening Day last April, have some key players as pending free agents, including likely 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge (10.6 bWAR with 62 home runs and 133 RBI, while just missing the Triple Crown with a .311 batting average), as well as starter Jameson Taillon, LF Benintendi and utilitymen Matt Carpenter and Marwin Gonzalez, plus relievers Chad Green, Miguel Castro, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman. They should have Michael King back and healthy and LeMahieu (likely toe surgery) next year.
Cracks in the Armour
But more importantly, some cracks started to appear in the case for keeping Aaron Boone as manager this postseason. Uncertainty in New York should be seen as a positive in Toronto, where the outlook is relatively more stable.
Certainly Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has only made one managerial change in 14 seasons as the principal owner, with Boone replacing Joe Girardi after the 2017 season. That compares to his father George, who changed managers 21 times in 36 seasons as controlling owner from 1973-2008.
When the Yankees extended Boone’s contract last October, Steinbrenner said,
"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… We need to get better. Period. I know Aaron fully embraces our expectations of success, and I look forward to drawing on his intelligence, instincts and leadership in pursuit of our next World Series championship."
But there has been justified criticism of Boone’s handling of key situations in the postseason this year that call in to question his managing acumen, instincts, intelligence and leadership.
For example, in game three of the ALDS against Cleveland, he called on Clarke Schmidt instead of closer Clay Holmes, who was coming off a strained shoulder that landed him on the IL at the end of the regular season.
However, despite being hired to replace Joe Girardi in part because of his communication skills, Boone never told him he wasn’t going to be available for the game, and Holmes publicly contradicted Boone in postgame comments.
Then trailing 2-0 in the must-win game three of the ALCS, Boone came out in the sixth inning to replace his $36 million a year ace Gerrit Cole, who’d thrown 96 pitches up to that point, with arguably only his fourth best reliever in Lou Trivino, when better high leverage relievers Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga and Wandy Peralta were all available. As Sherman concluded,
"This played like even Boone wasn’t sure what to do because really the only choice to keep Bregman at third was his best starter (Cole) or his best reliever (Loaisiga or Holmes). But Boone never showed us who he thinks his best reliever is by warming him in this four-alarm moment… Boone turned to Trivino. The score ballooned to 5-0. Houston took a three games to none lead."
Yes, Boone has a 427-281 (.603) record over the last five seasons, with two AL East pennants; and, yes, he’s coming off a 99-win season.
But the Yankees have now been bounced by the Houston Astros in the ALCS three times in the past six seasons. Including the postseason, the Astros won nine of eleven games against NY this year, a series which included ten games decided by three runs or less. As NY Post columnist Joel Sherman noted,
"The teams played 99 innings against each other in 2022. The Yankees led after just five, including three in Game 4. But the Astros just kept erasing the leads Sunday. They did everything large and small better. They are just better."
Boone wasn’t able to coax the best out of his star slugger Aaron Judge in the playoffs. Judge batted just .139 with three RBIs and 15 strikeouts in the postseason, going 1 for 16 (.063) with no RBI against the Astros.
As Sports Illustrated’s Gary Phillips wrote, “Boone’s in-game decisions and communication skills – the latter being one of the primary reasons for his initial hire – have been criticized.”
Or as Joel Sherman put it, “[Is Boone] a dexterous enough strategist to win real-time battle after real-time battle in the postseason?”
The Yankees appear to have more uncertainty this offseason than Toronto with an aging roster, and Judge as a pending FA. He accounted for 24.4% of the Yankees 254 home runs this season, after blasting 17.6% of their homers in 2021.
Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman, in the role since 1998, also has his five-year contract up this year, and Steinbrenner hasn’t said anything yet publicly except as per AP Wednesday that, “We haven’t talked about anything yet. [Cashman] and I had some preliminary conversations [about the offseason].”
Yankee great Mariano Rivera has openly said Aaron Boone shouldn’t keep his job, and there are more questions than answers after Boone’s decision making and communication problems in the playoffs.
Further, given the Yankees apparent inability to slay the Astros dragon under Aaron Boone as manager, could the Jays perhaps stand a better chance in a potential ALCS matchup with Houston next year if they can win the AL East and advance past the ALDS?
They certainly aren’t scared of the Yankees under Boone, going 4-3 against the Yankees under Schneider after going 4-8 in that season series under former manager Charlie Montoyo.
In their current competitive window, the Jays took the season series against Houston 4-2 this year after going 2-4 in 2021. While inconclusive, a .500 regular season record over the past two seasons compares well to the Yankees 6-7 combined record, and 6-11 record including the 2022 ALCS.
The Yankees might have a confidence gap facing the Astros given the recent history under Boone; the Jays don’t carry any of that baggage. John Schneider was the bench coach when the Jays went 4-2 against the Astros in late April at the beginning of May, so there’s more of a blank slate there with him as manager.
Regardless, clouds in the Bronx under Boone might portend sunnier skies in the Six under Schneider?