The Phillies fired Joe Girardi and wound up in the World Series four months later.
It’s been five years since the Yankees ended Girardi’s managerial tenure in the Bronx, and they’ll again be watching the Fall Classic on TV — for the 13th consecutive October.
But we mention Girardi now in this context only to make a point. It’s much bigger than him. It’s about a team’s decision-making process, and in the high-stakes, results-driven business of Major League Baseball, the only correct decisions are the ones that work.
By that standard, with another $260 million World Series bid now vaporized, general manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone have a worse batting average than their lineup of pinstriped windmills did this October.
We bring up Girardi because his last season in 2017 was the closest the Yankees have come to getting past the Astros, actually pushing them to a Game 7 in the ALCS that year — imagine that — before Cashman concluded that he needed a new voice for the Baby Bomber generation in his clubhouse.
Fair enough. Girardi had been there a decade and was eight years removed from his ’09 World Series title. Every manager has a shelf life, and if the team falls into a repeated pattern of always coming up just short of delivering on its mission statement, then where’s the evidence for keeping him?
Well, what does that say about Boone, who’s now 0-for-5 in five playoff trips, with three of those teams winning 99 or more games, at an aggregate payroll cost of $1.13 billion over that span? Or Cashman, who hand-picked Boone from the broadcast booth and has built one AL pennant-winner in 19 years?
We’re beyond “the playoffs are a crapshoot” argument by now. Either the Yankees are the unluckiest team in baseball come October or there is something genuinely flawed about their decision-making process: roster-wise, in-game strategy, clubhouse chemistry. You name it.
The Yankees have had their season ended by the Astros four times since 2015, three in the ALCS. They lost nine of their 11 meetings with Houston this season, including this four-game sweep, when the Astros always came up with every hit, play or pitch they needed.
Why did Boone’s bullpen choices rarely have the desired effect? Why did the ever-rotating lineups fail to produce more than a tablespoon of offense? Why did the shortstop benched for his defensive jitters keep being put in combustible situations until it ultimately blew up their season?
Boone did his best to explain everything amid the rubble afterward, but he’s only the spokesman for the Yankees’ collaborative effort behind the curtain. Later this week, when Cashman is expected to deliver his annual post-mortem on the season, he’ll have his reasoning, too.
Rest assured, the Yankees, armed to the teeth in analytical resources, have plenty of data-driven backup to defend every move they make. But if those decisions didn’t get the Yankees to their ultimate goal, then it’s time to seriously re-evaluate the process, and that comes down to the people in charge of running the operation.
Cashman is at the end of his five-year, $25 million contract, and given his long working relationship under two generations of Steinbrenners in George and Hal, we figured he’d be renewed as often as he’d like to stay.
That’s likely to be the case again, but it’s obvious that business as usual in the Bronx doesn’t produce the desired results in October, and hasn’t in a very long time.
If Cashman stays, then there has to be a hard look at Boone, who signed a three-year extension at the end of last season. Boone was hired to be a media-savvy communication bridge between the clubhouse and front office. By Cashman’s estimation, he’s surely fulfilled that role, but to what end?
Boone was booed emphatically by the Bronx crowds when the Yankees returned for the back half of the Astros’ sweep. With the franchise under siege by its loyal customers, frustrated by their investment of time and money in more failure, Cashman could be squeezed by Steinbrenner to make some tangible, highly visible changes.
Boone had an awful October, and even though his misadventures were tied to the front office’s inability to come up with a consistent strategy, he’s still the face of the malfunction.
“We got to keep working to get better,” Boone said Sunday night after Game 4. “Obviously, we had some key contributors missing that I think would have been difference-makers for us potentially. But then again, everyone has to deal with those things on some level. So it’s frustrating.”
Boone’s not wrong. If they had been healthy, DJ LeMahieu and Andrew Benintendi would have upgraded the offense. Michael King, Ron Marinaccio and Scott Effross were tough losses to the bullpen. But the Yankees barely made it past the Guardians and couldn’t even take a game off the Astros.
That level of disappointment is too big to pin on a few injured players. It belongs on the front office, and the manager, and the owner.
They don’t need any cutting-edge tech to figure out the problem, either.
Just a mirror.