With no professional coaching experience, Aaron Boone was a surprising choice for next manager of the New York Yankees.
Have a successful professional playing career, ride the buses for ten years managing in the minor leagues, spend a few years as a bench coach at the MLB level, finally get a job as a big-league skipper. That used to be the typical path every manager in the major leagues had to follow to get the job, but no more. With front offices calling the shots more and more, decades of managerial and coaching experience are no longer a prerequisite for managing in the big leagues.
The New York Yankees are the latest team to eschew the old school belief that a manager must have years of seasoning before being ready to take over a clubhouse. Aaron Boone has never managed at any level, let alone coach, but he is Brian Cashman’s choice to replace 2009 World Series champion Joe Girardi. With his choice, Cashman is sending a clear message — I’m the one calling the shots.
This is not a new development, especially in more analytically-driven front offices. Mike Matheny has managed the St. Louis Cardinals since 2011 with no previous professional experience. Out in Los Angeles, Dave Roberts has a .602 winning percentage in his first two years and came within a game of winning the World Series. Roberts never managed in the minor leagues. Craig Counsell leads the up-and-coming Milwaukee Brewers, and took over in the dugout after working in the front office and broadcast booth as a color analyst. Gabe Kapler is the new manager of the Philadelphia Phillies and has also never managed at any level. All of these franchises share a heavy focus on sabermetrics.
Managing an MLB team has become an exercise in painting-by-numbers for most teams. The front office and the analytics department sends down the data, and the manager implements it, his job reduced more to “managing” personalities and roles and serving as an intermediary for the jerseys and the suits. The grizzled old baseball man who logged thousands of miles around America’s back roads in the minor leagues has been replaced by the young, handsome former player who has only known chartered flight. Take him, surround him with smart assistant coaches who can work behind the scenes and watch the wins pile up.
The notion that a manager could succeed with little-to-no seasoning in the minor leagues was poo-pooed initially, but it has caught on quite quickly with the smarter teams around the league. Maybe, just maybe, managing a bullpen full of flamethrowers who throw 95 mph with wipeout sliders isn’t quite as hard as we all imagined it was.
Let’s get back to Boone and his new job with the Yankees. There could not be a better situation to walk into for a first-time manager. Sure, New York is the biggest pressure cooker in the league, but Boone has one of the best young cores to work with led by Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro and Greg Bird. The rotation has Luis Severino, Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka. Out in the bullpen, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green and Chasen Shreve all struck out more than 11 per nine last season. Painting by numbers won’t be so hard if those are your colors.
Brian Cashman has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the best executives in baseball during his time with the Yankees, and he has been on some kind of role the past three seasons. He smartly passed on trading Aaron Judge for Cole Hamels, saved his money on Jordan Zimmermann or Johnny Cueto, signed and flipped Andrew Miller, scooped up Starlin Castro for spare parts after he fell out of favor with the Chicago Cubs, traded for Aroldis Chapman, traded him again for Gleyber Torres, re-signed him, built one of the best bullpens in the league at the deadline last year, used his immense prospect depth to pry Sonny Gray away from Billy Beane, all the while stockpiling enough international bonus money to make Shoehei Ohtani a maximum offer.
Suffice to say, Cashman knows what he’s doing.
Serving as the GM of the Yankees is a thankless job. When you win, it’s because you spent the most. When you lose, your spending draws extra criticism. Cashman is legitimately one of the best in the league, but he doesn’t quite get the same love as Theo Epstein while making moves that are just as shrewd.
Boone is Cashman’s man, and he will get the chance to mold him exactly to his visions of the modern-day manager. Having spent the last eight years working for ESPN, Boone is very familiar with the rest of the league and has a grasp on analytics. He is also a polished presence in front of the media who can identify with and massage the egos of his players behind closed doors. There might be a few bumps along the way in the early going, but this is not as huge a gamble as it seems at first glance.
While Joe Girardi did not necessarily do anything to lose his job, he was not Cashman’s “man.” In Aaron Boone, he gets that and more.