Yankees manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman spent more than two hours fielding questions on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, expressing their frustration following the team’s elimination in a five-game American League Division Series.
“Every series is a prize fight,” Cashman said. “You’re going to have someone who’s standing at the end of that fight. We went five games with the Tampa Bay Rays and the loser got knocked out. All the blood that comes with that knockout comes our way, which is also the criticism of not being good enough. That comes with the territory.”
One day after managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner apologized to the fan base for falling short in a year that they were favored as World Series contenders, Boone and Cashman said that they believe the Yankees are closer to celebrating a championship than it might appear.
Here are five key takeaways from the news conference:
1. The Game 2 decision
There were numerous questions asked concerning the decision to use Deivi García as an opener in ALDS Game 2 against the Rays, with J.A. Happ following as a bulk reliever. Boone said that the decision was made after the AL Wild Card Series victory over the Indians, nodding to Happ’s significant OPS advantage over the last three years against left-handed hitters.
“We were trying to exploit that a little bit, knowing that laying in the weeds was Gerrit [Cole] for a potential Game 5,” Boone said. “It was trying to creatively use our pitchers to try and get them in the best situations, to give us a chance to be successful in a game when you know we’re up against [Tyler] Glasnow. It evolved over a two-day period … we talked to J.A. about it and told him our thinking and our thought process.”
A social-media lurker, Cashman blamed himself for putting Boone in the position of having to mix and match with a rotation that he described as “at risk.” Cashman bristled at the suggestion that Boone has served as a “puppet” for the front office and analytics team; while many have a voice and contribute information to the team’s decision-making process, Boone said his decisions are final when it comes to filling out the lineup card or deciding which pitchers to call upon.
“I know there’s that narrative,” Cashman said. “It’s been asked several times about the manager being a puppet and all that. None of that is true. I’ve never ordered a manager to do anything specifically. Aaron would be able to testify to that, as well as Joe Girardi and Joe Torre. They’ve never been directed at any time by me or my front office to do something that they didn’t want to do.”
2. Gary Sánchez’s future
Sánchez was on the bench for five of the Yankees’ seven postseason games, losing playing time to Kyle Higashioka after batting .147 with 10 homers in 49 regular-season games. Cashman said that Sánchez’s subpar performance would be a discussion point during the upcoming pro scouting meetings, and he could not guarantee that Sánchez will enter 2021 as the team’s starting catcher.
“It could very well be a change. It could very well be a competition,” Cashman said. “We haven’t had those conversations, but I know Gary is capable of a lot. There’s no question in my mind about that. I’m sure he’s as disappointed in this season as anybody, but I know he cares and he’s committed. His career will continue and better days will be ahead for him.”
Boone said Higashioka earned the increased playing time that he saw in September and October, but the manager still has “a ton of confidence” in Sánchez, who will turn 28 in December and has batted .200/.296/.453 with 62 homers and 154 RBIs (99 OPS+) over the past three seasons.
“In Gary’s case, I do feel like his ceiling is really, really special,” Boone said. “It’s incumbent upon all of us to continue to work alongside him and help him realize that great potential that I feel like he still has.”
3. Health updates
The Yankees have no significant injury concerns as they enter the offseason. Their most prominent issue is the status of first baseman Luke Voit, who limped through much of the campaign with plantar fasciitis, as an MRI taken on Sunday revealed. Voit received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his left foot and will wear a walking boot for one week, which is expected to resolve the issue.
Third baseman Gio Urshela had his right elbow checked after being sidelined during the season with a bone spur; no surgery has been recommended. Right-hander Luis Severino is continuing to progress in his return from Tommy John surgery and has been throwing at distances of 90 feet for about three weeks. Cashman said that Severino is expected to return to the Majors in June or July.
4. Money matters
Steinbrenner said that the Yankees incurred significant financial losses during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season as a result of playing in front of no fans -- “more so than any other team in baseball.” Cashman said that could impact the club’s spending during this offseason -- an important note as DJ LeMahieu and Masahiro Tanaka approach free agency.
“This global pandemic has affected everybody in a horrific way in a business setting,” Cashman said. “[Steinbrenner] was just shining a light on the reality that I don’t think would be a surprise to anybody, or shouldn’t be. … Clearly, these are real constraints that exist throughout all industries and households. It will be clearly something that factors into how we approach the future.”
Boone and Cashman spoke effusively of LeMahieu and Tanaka. Cashman said that Tanaka “has been fantastic every step of the way” throughout his seven-year contract. Boone said that he spotted LeMahieu, the Majors’ leading hitter this past season, at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
“I think if you take a snapshot of the last two years, you can probably count on one hand how many players have been as good as DJ LeMahieu,” Boone said. “We’ll see what happens. All I can tell you is he’s been a pleasure to manage, to watch him go out and prepare the way he does, perform the way he does, lead the way he does. He’s a special player, a special person. We’d love to have him back.”
5. Mission 28
Voit was one of the more emotional players to speak after the ALDS Game 5 loss, saying that it was his third year in a row experiencing the pain of a playoff loss. The Yanks lost the 2018 ALDS to the Red Sox, fell in the '19 ALCS to the Astros and now are watching as the Rays hope to advance to the World Series.
Despite those heartbreaks, Boone said that he believes the differences between the Yankees and the eventual 2020 champion is “razor-thin,” and Cashman said that he believes the team will soon be in position to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy.
“The commitment of trying to be a champion is always going to be there,” Cashman said. “I’m proud of that championship-caliber intent and effort. We’ll keep working at it, I promise you. That’s our commitment to our fans.”