This was Brian Cashman’s press conference. The reason was to announce Aaron Boone was returning as Yankee manager on a three-year contract plus an option. But this was about the general manager.
Because the 90 minutes of Zoom calls — two-thirds of which were Cashman to one-third Boone — wasn’t focused on the state of who is answering questions about Aaron Judge’s lower-body aches before a random game in June. This is about where the Yankees have been, are and are headed. So it was mostly about Cashman’s corner of the Yankee world.
For even Boone is a reflection of Cashman. When Joe Girardi was in Boone’s spot four years ago — eliminated from the playoffs with an expiring contract — Cashman recommended not to bring Girardi back after 10 seasons, the last of which ended with a surprising run to ALCS Game 7.
This time — after a frustrating season of underachievement in so many areas and a one-and-done playoff — Cashman said he never had a doubt about re-upping Boone.
Cashman said if the Yankees were looking for a manager, they would want someone like Boone, so why change? So they didn’t. Cashman has seen the relationship with his manager as a partnership and he likes partnering with someone he finds reliable, measured and open-minded. So the partnership continues, albeit with Boone having a guaranteed deal through 2024, but Cashman’s pact up after next season.
Now here comes a moment for perspective. Cashman takes a lot of arrows for not delivering more than one title this century. But look around New York. The other teams have been a joke for extended periods of the last two decades. A lot of executives have come and gone ingloriously. The Yankees, under Cashman, have never had a season without vital games, minimally into late September, usually into October. I do not believe that Steve Cohen would jump for Boone, but if Cashman were available …?
And yet Cashman does suddenly feel more under the microscope in The Bronx. Cashman needs Boone to show he is not just a steady presence liked by the players, but a difference-maker. And Cashman needs to reverse course away from an inconsistent team that even he conceded too often was “unwatchable.”
Hal Steinbrenner trusts Cashman, is comfortable with him and believes he operates with the Yankees’ best interest at heart. But no job is forever.
Theo Epstein has said a decade in charge is essentially an expiration date before messages and energy go stale. Cashman has been in charge for more than two decades and, in the last few years, the low-budget Rays have outdone the Yankees. The hated Red Sox have remade themselves multiple times — sinking to last place on occasion — but rising to championship level; this year led in baseball operations by a guy from the Rays family tree (Chaim Bloom). The Dodgers won it all last year combining deep pockets, sound decision-making and a fertile pipeline led in baseball operations by a guy from the Rays family tree (Andrew Friedman).
Is the Yankee family tree keeping up?
Again, the bar is high, in part because Cashman has helped raise it. For many teams — the Mets, for example — 92 wins and a wild card are successes. But the Yankee mantra, espoused by Cashman too, remains to compete for championships. And they have won one division title in nine seasons and made the World Series once since 2002. And even Cashman conceded that despite the 92 wins, this Yankee team did not feel like previous ones that were ousted but he still believed were championship capable.
Multiple times he offered a “buck stops here” accountability, most forcefully saying, “This is my responsibility. If you want to blame anyone, blame me.”
But he also defended the Yankee process and did not sound like he was ready to sacrifice front-office counsel in the way third-base coach Phil Nevin and hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere were offloaded from the 2021 underachievers.
Cashman acknowledges the lack of a true starting shortstop, athleticism and enough at-plate contact and has reasons why he stuck with personnel that made those areas of concern even before a 2021 in which the Yanks stopped scoring as anticipated while remaining suspect on defense and on the bases.
Yet, Cashman advocated to keep the manager from that team and seems content with the decision-making apparatus he constructed and relies upon and — by the way — has helped win more than 60 percent of regular-season games in Boone’s four seasons. Still, to watch the 2021 Yankees, it was hard to perceive a team going in the right direction. Was that a blip or a sea change?
That is why on Tuesday the Yanks signed Aaron Boone and then held a Brian Cashman press conference.