Boone: Yankees 'hell-bent on being a champion'

Manager lays out hopes, expectations at opening Spring Training news conference

February 14th, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- The steady stream of players filtering through the Yankees’ Spring Training complex caught Aaron Boone’s attention over the past several weeks, prompting the manager to believe that his team is eager to put last season’s disappointment behind it.

“We’re hell-bent on being a champion,” Boone said Wednesday as Yankees pitchers and catchers reported to George M. Steinbrenner Field. “We understand very well that last year was not anything anyone in this organization wants or demands or expects.”

Coming off a fourth-place finish in the American League East, the Yankees had a busy offseason, highlighted by the additions of outfielders Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo and right-hander Marcus Stroman. Early forecasts see them as a strong postseason contender.

“We are ready to roll, but again, we’ve got to show you,” Boone said. “I think we have a chance to be a really special team. That’s all it is right now. We’ve got to go show the world that we’re as good as we think we can be.”

Here are five takeaways from Boone’s opening news conference:

1. Expecting big-time bats
The Bronx Bombers hardly lived up to that nickname last season, ranking 25th in the Majors with 4.15 runs per game. Among qualified Yanks, only Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres posted an OPS+ mark above the league average of 100.

Soto’s arrival should move things in a positive direction, adding his remarkable blend of power and patience, but Boone also predicted a productive season for DJ LeMahieu. In fact, Boone identified LeMahieu as his ideal leadoff hitter, saying that the 35-year-old “worked his tail off this winter.”

“His foundation in his legs and how he’s moving is different than it's been in a while,” Boone said of LeMahieu, one of the players who has been working out in Tampa for weeks. “He’s running well. He’s just more explosive to me in the batting cage. To me, it’s very noticeable.”

2. Excited about depth
As Boone spoke, three of the most important pitchers in camp were taking turns firing live batting practice from the mound at the Himes Avenue complex: Nestor Cortes, Carlos Rodón and Stroman. AL Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole will toss a bullpen session Thursday.

Asked about his confidence in the rotation, Boone said, “We’ll see.” He then noted a few of the names who will be next in line if and when the starting five need breathers -- a group that includes prospects Will Warren, Chase Hampton and Luis Gil.

“Considering what we lost in some trades this year, I think we’re in a much better depth position than maybe I even expected,” Boone said. “But you know that depth is going to be challenged. We’ll find out.”

3. New approaches
The Yankees went into the offseason with managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner speaking about examining every aspect of the organization, which prompted three days of spirited debates in Tampa.

Boone and general manager Brian Cashman were part of those conversations, which sometimes grew heated. Boone said there will be “subtle changes” as a result, including attempts to eliminate confusion when discussing analytic data with players.

“The meetings were pointed, and hopefully they lead to better [performance] in every little area,” Boone said. “I also came away very encouraged that I work with a lot of really talented and smart people that have an obsession with getting to the top of the mountain. That’s what we’re here to do.”

4. A Rizzo return
Anthony Rizzo looked like himself while taking batting practice hacks, an encouraging sign as Rizzo looks past the post-concussion syndrome that wrecked his 2023 campaign. Though Rizzo didn’t play in a game after Aug. 1, Boone suggested he could have.

“Physically, Rizz was probably ready at the end of the season last year,” Boone said. “It's enabled him to really have a normal winter as far as preparing for the upcoming season. I don't anticipate any holdups with that. He's already pushing to get into games very early. I would expect that to be the case.”

5. Injury updates
Boone revealed that catcher Jose Trevino is recovering from a calf strain, and Trevino will not play in the first two weeks of Grapefruit League games. Trevino has been running and performing catching drills, but that likely spells increased reps for Austin Wells and Ben Rortvedt early in camp.

Additionally, right-hander Scott Effross underwent back surgery in December and will begin the season on the 60-day injured list. Boone said Effross will probably be unavailable to pitch in big league games until the summer.