Aaron Boone, the Yankees rookie manager has ridden the red carpet with a stacked team which did what they were supposed to do. The real test starts now.
Some would say that Aaron Boone has merely achieved what anyone in his shoes would be expected to do by managing the New York Yankees to where they sit now, having clinched a Wild Card spot in the American League.
Others would add that Boone has done nothing to distinguish himself from the other 29 managers in the big leagues. Aaron Boone did not accomplish what Bob Melvin has achieved with the Oakland A’s, by taking a team with the lowest payroll at the start of the season to the brink of sending the Yankees on a cross-country trip next Wednesday for the winner-take-all game to move on to face the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS.
Nor did Aaron Boone stun the baseball world as Kevin Cash has done by inventing the “opener” pitching out the bullpen to start a game, a strategy by the way that even Boone successfully employed in last night’s 4-1 victory over Tampa Bay.
What Aaron Boone has managed to do in his rookie season as manager of the Yankees, though, is to get out of his own way and not screw this thing up. That seems like a small matter unless your team plays under the glare of New York fans and media.
Presented with a team spiced with veterans and youngsters, again through the auspices of Yankees General Manager, Brian Cashman, Boone was able to let his players control the clubhouse. And not surprisingly, with leaders like Brett Gardner, CC Sabathia, and Aaron Judge around, there was not even a hint of dissension that made its way into Boone’s office.
Tweak the lineup here and there. Provide adequate rest for your position players. Wait for the cavalry to arrive (Luke Voit, Zach Britton, and Andrew McCutchen) when players were injured or performed miserably (Greg Bird). And then to boot, you get to sit back to watch the exploding production of Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, all without doing nothing more than writing their names on a lineup card.
Well, that was then and this now. It’s crunch time for Aaron Boone, and well before his players take the field next Wednesday, the spotlight will shine on him and the decisions he will make in the next few days.
Aaron Boone has prematurely committed himself to Gary Sanchez as his catcher for as long as the Yankees stay alive in the playoffs. This, despite two more passed balls and another 0-4 at the plate last night. All based on the premise that Sanchez is “due.” Right there, that’s risky business for which Boone will pay a heavy price if Sanchez doesn’t deliver the baby soon.
To his credit, Aaron Boone is playing a cagey game with regards to the starter he will pick against Oakland. There’s no sense in signaling to the A’s until the last minute. But who will he trust? It looks like Boone will not entertain the idea I had back in August (I still think it’s a good one), “Why Choose One, Pitch Em All” against Oakland and worry about Boston later.
J. A. Happ seems to be in line to pitch the game and Boone will not be easily second-guessed if he goes with Happ. Luis Severino carries the baggage of last year’s showing against the Twins and Masahiro Tanaka, as good as he’s been over the second-half, still creates an uneasy stir every time he takes the hill. In the end, though, Aaron Boone can always opt for either one to pitch the big game, holding Happ back to make the start against the Red Sox two days later.
Aaron Boone also needs to sort out his infield in the wake of what could be a season-ending wrist injury to Didi Gregorius. Choices abound, including sliding Gleyber Torres and his ten errors at that position over to shortstop and selecting among Neil Walker and the forgotten man, Ronald Torreyes, to play second base.
And finally, there’s that tantalizing choice to make between Gardner and McCutchen in left field. In what could be Gardner’s final appearances as a Yankee, you don’t want to say the team “owes him,” but in his case, it comes darn close. To wit, just remember the clutch catch he made in center field to save two runs last night (Video Below), entering the game as a sub for Aaron Hicks, who may or may not have a damaged hamstring.
Aaron Boone is no dummy, and he knows this is the week that will butter his bread – or not. He’s not in danger of being fired, but his Yankees stock will drop a notch if he doesn’t rise to the occasion, making sound baseball decisions when they need to be made.
All indications are Boone is more than capable of doing so. It’s just that the regular season has revealed him to be more in tune with being part of the supporting cast in a blockbuster movie. That’s about to change – in spades.
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