The Yankees owe Aaron Boone nothing.
Oh, they might owe him an apology (Gleyber Torres at shortstop) or two (Joey Gallo at all) and a few bucks from the year “Savages in the Box!” became a thing, which feels like a couple of centuries ago. Yet with Boone’s contract expired after four years of managing, the Yankees should hold no sense of obligation to Boone for what he has accomplished.
The primary question determining this vital decision should build not off the past but rather the future:
Is Boone at manager a growth stock?
Because for Boone’s first four years on the job, no matter how much you want to emphasize his 328-218 regular-season record (at .601, the eighth-best winning percentage with a minimum 315 games since 1901) and play down his 11-11 postseason mark with zero World Series appearances, you couldn’t seriously contend that he stood as the best manager in the ultracompetitive American League East. And you can’t win baseball’s toughest division unless you deploy enough bests up and down the organization. So since he isn’t currently the best, the Yankees must project whether Boone can be the best.
The (modest) wager here calls for the Yankees to bring back Boone over the next few days with an eventually reshuffled coaching staff after the team’s offense dramatically underperformed as the pitching shined, Gerrit Cole’s late, fatal fizzle notwithstanding. Boone’s greatest selling point might be that he is wanted back internally. That the players by and large still appear to enjoy playing for him and his bosses still like employing him. Such synchronicity creates the potential for growth, whereas the Yankees believed they would get diminishing returns when they bid farewell to Joe Girardi and Joe Torre in 2017 and 2007, respectively, upon the conclusion of their deals.
Now, here’s the rub: Even if Girardi never won Mr. Congeniality honors, no one disputed his preparation, intensity or ingenuity. He ranked among the elite at his profession when the Yankees dismissed him. Same for Torre, his gravitas and grace under pressure still intact when the Yankees, having reached October without winning it all every year from ’01 through 07, offered him a one-year deal to stick around and he instead headed west to lead the Dodgers.
The Red Sox’s Alex Cora, who just ousted Boone for the second time in four years, actually trails his 2005 Indians teammate in service thanks to sitting out the 2020 campaign due to his role in the 2017 Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. However, Cora came storming out of the gate, the fifth rookie skipper to win it all, and to watch him even part-time is to see someone who excels at in-game energy and strategy and communication skills with both his players and the public.
Cora’s American League Division Series foe Kevin Cash of the Rays, meanwhile, gets buy-in from his players arguably better than anyone in the industry when you contemplate how Tampa Bay’s limited revenue compels the Rays to think constantly out of the box. Cash worked through the goof that cost his team the 2020 World Series (lifting Blake Snell in Game 6) by accounting for the decision and discussing it proactively, subsequently, with players and coaches.
The Blue Jays’ Charlie Montoyo, moreover, guided his group through three home ballparks and considerable injuries, most notably to huge acquisition George Springer, and finished just one game behind the Yankees. He carries a growth-stock vibe.
The competition is fierce and Boone ranks third, at best, in the division. On Boone’s watch, the clear room for improvement lies in development (why has Gary Sanchez regressed since Girardi’s departure? What happened to Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier?) and in-game strategy (pick your favorite mistake, although none will be from the Yankees’ last two games of the year, well-managed). Would he fare better with different coaches? Can he get better simply with more reps?
Is there a person out there who can perform the job better, quicker?
I think it’s a close call for the Yankees on whether to retain Boone. I can see both arguments. However, if you want to keep him, it can’t be because of what he has done. It has to be because of what he can do. The Yankees owe that to themselves.