NEW YORK – The Yankees absorbed the gut punch of being eliminated by the Astros in a six-game American League Championship Series, then dealt a blow to the defending AL champions by wooing ace right-hander Gerrit Cole with a nine-year, $324 million pact.
That exciting turn has Aaron Boone counting the days until pitchers and catchers report to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Feb. 12, the Yankees manager said Tuesday on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio.
“I think it definitely sharpens everyone's focus and everyone's hunger,” Boone said. “I feel like we have a very hungry group. This is a team now, even going back to the year before I got here, that's really come pretty close and been knocking on the door. We’ve certainly been one of those teams that we feel like could be a championship team.”
As Boone prepares for his third season at the managerial helm, here is a selection of offseason updates from his radio appearance:
Visiting with Andújar
After being limited to 12 big league games last year with a right shoulder injury, Miguel Andújar projects to enter Spring Training vying for reps behind Gio Urshela at third base, with playing time also possible at first base and in left field. Boone said that he and some of the Yanks’ coaching staff plan to travel to the Dominican Republic next week, where they hope to gauge Andújar’s progress in person.
“He's doing really well,” Boone said. “We believe he's going to be totally healthy as we enter Spring Training and good to go. He's doing all his ground ball [work] and throwing, and he's good to go right now. We feel like he's in a really good spot physically. We'll get to spend a little bit of time with him and put our eyes on him a little bit.”
Giancarlo's 'desire and burn’
In his second season with the Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton appeared in only 18 regular season games, then sustained a Grade 2 strain of his right quadriceps during the ALCS against Houston. While 2019 was a frustrating season for the slugger, Boone said that he believes Stanton will report to camp with the same strong mindset he exhibited last spring.
“His focus and his process was really, really good last year,” Boone said. “I felt like he was going to have a monster season for us, and I feel that way very much going into this year. The big thing is going to be just keeping him healthy, keeping him built up properly and using Spring Training smartly. I do feel like he's got a special season underneath him because I feel like the desire and the burn is very much there.”
Spring Training preparation
Boone said that as a result of last year’s injuries, which forced the club to call upon its depth while a Major League record 30 players served 39 stints on the injured list, he and the coaching staff expect to be more familiar with the group that assembles in Tampa, Fla., next month.
“We definitely feel like going to spring, we have a lot more guys that we know a lot more about,” Boone said. “We know that they are capable of not just contributing at the big league level, but having an impact at the big league level. We feel like over the last couple years our depth has really developed, and hopefully that continues to serve us well moving forward.”
Strength and conditioning overhaul
In response to last season’s injury woes, the Yankees have revamped their strength and conditioning staff, with their changes including the reported addition of celebrated performance coach Eric Cressey to oversee the department. The club dismissed strength and conditioning coach Matt Krause in December.
“Sports science and sports performance has really taken off, the way players’ development has continued to evolve,” Boone said. “There's a lot of areas where we're seeing very smart organizations and very smart teams gain an edge in different areas. We're just trying to stay ahead of things and on top of things, and kind of be the best machine we can be in every area moving forward.”
Upcoming rule changes
Major League clubs will adjust to several modifications this year, including the expansion of the active roster from 25 to 26 players and the institution of a rule requiring that relief pitchers face at least three batters or pitch to the conclusion of an inning. Boone said that conversations about how the Yankees plan to approach those changes are underway, adding that his relievers have not been overly matchup-oriented during the regular season.
“I would say there's been very few times where they didn't meet that criteria anyway, where they weren't facing a few hitters, or at least finishing the inning,” Boone said. “The guys we have on our staff, by and large, are really good at getting both hands [of hitters] out. During the regular season, I don't like to necessarily use guys for an out here and matchup here. I feel like getting them up and getting them in, I count that as a day of usage and I count that heavily in how I use guys moving forward.”
Boone added that he is in favor of the change that permits a 26th man on the roster, a spot that he indicated would likely go to a position player.
“Most teams, and us, are usually at 13 pitchers now anyway,” Boone said. “To be able to have that fourth guy on the bench – especially if it's a guy that has a lot of versatility, which I think for us it has a chance to be – that's a comfort and something that I'm looking forward to happen.”