Hal Steinbrenner made things very clear on Tuesday morning.
“As a team and as an organization, we must grow, evolve and improve,” the Yankees’ owner said in a statement. “We need to get better. Period.”
And that’s why the Yankees made the stunning announcement that they are… giving manager Aaron Boone a new three-year contract?
The Yankees have been to one ALCS in Boone’s four years at the helm, never mind not getting back to the World Series for the first time since 2009. They’ve won one division title under Boone. And they have had several promising players — Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, and Miguel Andújar among them — see the question go from how good they can be to whether they’ll ever match their early production.
Only two Yankees managers have piloted the Bronx Bombers for more games and failed to win a World Series: Clark Griffith, their first skipper and a player-manager for most of his tenure from 1903-08, and Buck Showalter, who got the boot at the same stage of his career as Boone — four seasons with his contract up.
The last time a Yankees manager was hired, didn’t win a World Series in the first four years, and still got a fifth season, was Ralph Houk, who took over in 1966 and managed through 1973, when George Steinbrenner bought the team and promptly made a change in leadership. Houk was in his second go-around, having won the World Series with the 1961 and 1962 Yankees, plus the 1963 pennant, after which he lost the job. During that second Houk term, the Yankees were owned by CBS, the darkest era in team history.
Without changing managers, how are the Yankees going to grow, evolve, and improve? They’re locked into contracts with Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton, Aroldis Chapman, D.J. LeMahieu, Zack Britton, Rougned Odor, and Aaron Hicks, with arbitration raises due to Aaron Judge, Joey Gallo, Gio Urshela, and Jordan Montgomery, not to mention decisions on whether to tender contracts to Sanchez, Torres, and Luke Voit. This isn’t something that’s going to be fixed by firing hitting coach Marcus Thames and third base coach Phil Nevin.
There’s no telling right now what a new collective bargaining agreement will mean for the Yankees’ roster construction, but their recent aversion to exceeding the luxury tax isn’t an encouraging sign for any kind of significant overhaul, nor is Brian Cashman’s track record of team building, which is a bigger issue than retaining Boone.
Cashman has been the Yankees’ general manager since 1998 after having been part of the front office that built the 1990s dynasty. Since the end of that run, there’s been one World Series win in 20 years, with a long line of underwhelming drafts helping fuel the decline and fall of the Yankees empire. The Yankees’ struggles in free agency are partly on Cashman, but also on Steinbrenner being unwilling to fully exercise the franchise’s financial might, to the point that when you think of a big-money team in baseball these days, you think of the Dodgers.
If the Yankees are really going to grow, evolve, and improve, it has to start with Steinbrenner and continue with Cashman, two men who have become too comfortable leaning on the past. So is Boone, who weirdly said after the Yankees’ playoff ouster that “the league’s closed the gap on us,” as if that gap hadn’t already slammed shut years ago, as evidenced by the Yankees’ zero pennants since 2009. But the manager sticking around for another three years is just a symptom of the rot in the Bronx, not the cause.