Nearly two weeks after the Yankees decided to let manager Joe Girardi walk, nothing has emerged to make their decision seem any less confusing than it did at the time. Some fresh commentary on the situation from general manager Brian Cashman did nothing to clear it up.
Cashman asserted to local media today that there wasn’t any issue with his own relationship with Girardi, or any disconnect over the use of analytics. The one area he deemed a problem was “connectivity and communication” with players—apparently not so much of a problem as to stop him from later calling Girardi “an exceptional manager.” In a vacuum, there’s nothing particularly strange about this; Girardi was widely recognized as a good manager, sure, but generally good managers have been let go over less than qualms about connectivity and communication. What’s strange is this: Cashman maintains that this change was needed now and that there’s someone out there who can provide that change in a meaningfully positive form.
Cashman said he has no timetable for naming Girardi’s successor and had no preconceived candidate or list of replacements when he informed Girardi of the firing.
“Whoever the lead horse will be, hopefully they will be pretty obvious and they will win by 16 lengths, like Secretariat did,” Cashman said.
It’s possible that Cashman was being deliberately coy here in saying that he had no replacement in mind when he fired Girardi. But given this year’s field of potential candidates, it seems more likely that he was telling the truth. By the time that the Yankees let go of Girardi on Oct. 26, the biggest managerial names were already off the market: the Red Sox had Alex Cora, the Mets had Mickey Callaway, the Nationals were just about to lock down Davey Martinez. It’s hard to imagine whom the team could’ve looked at and thought, Yes, here are some definitively solid upgrades over Joe Girardi. (Uh, Brad Ausmus? Raul Ibanez? Jerry Hairston, Jr.?) And it’s much harder to imagine someone coming along now to become an obvious frontrunner in the vein of Secretariat.
(This is neither here nor there, by the way, but Secretariat didn’t win any of his 1973 Triple Crown races by 16 lengths, and he actually doesn’t appear to have ever won any race by that figure. The number most famously associated with him is the 31 lengths by which he won the ‘73 Belmont Stakes.)
In the grand layout of baseball, as historical or global as you want to make it, there are plenty of managers better than Girardi—like, I don’t know, Casey Stengel or Joe McCarthy. (Incidentally, both have been dead for more than 25 years.) But in the specific layout of who is available and interested in managing the Yankees and alive right now, it’s hard to think of anyone at all. The team is coming off a season in which they exceeded expectations by going to the ALCS, and they have a strong core of young talent that almost guarantees an exciting few seasons to come. They’re in a situation where change for its own simple sake has little to no upside and quite a few potential downsides. With the information publicly available right now, it’s difficult to see what the Yankees see—presumably, a candidate whose unknown qualities are alluring enough to be worth trashing the reliable wins of Girardi’s knowns. And not just worth it by one length, but by 16.