On an unforgettable October night fourteen years ago, Aaron Boone permanently etched himself into Yankees lore. His eleventh-inning home run in the decisive Game Seven of the ALCS lifted the Bronx Bombers over the rival Red Sox in dramatic walk-off fashion and into their 39th Fall Classic.
News has broken that Boone will be named the new manager of the Yankees, and the postseason hero of yesteryear now has an opportunity to write himself into a grand new chapter in the franchise's history. The former star turned television commentator steps into his new post with no prior coaching or managing experience. Yet, expectations for the 44-year-old rookie skipper couldn't be higher.
Winning it all isn't enough
The club just completed a whirlwind campaign. The Yankees won 91 games, secured the top Wild Card berth, and finished one victory shy of the American League pennant. They accomplished this after undergoing the shortest rebuild process imaginable.
It would be simple to say that Aaron Boone's primary task is to bring home the team's elusive 28th title. However, that won't be enough.
Hal Steinbrenner was recently asked if winning it all would have saved Joe Girardi's job. Steinbrenner said no.
Throughout the process of letting Girardi go and searching for his replacement, details have emerged as to what is expected of the incoming manager. Better communication skills, particularly pertaining to interactions with players, was cited.
Boone inherits a roster of talented young ballplayers. Aaron Judge was the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year and came in second in the MVP voting. Jordan Montgomery also received ROY votes, with Gary Sanchez having been the runner-up in 2016. Luis Severino and Chad Green had breakout years. The former finished third in the Cy Young race, while the latter had a historically great year as a reliever. Greg Bird once again demonstrated his great gifts, this time in the playoffs, after returning from an injury that had sidelined him for most of the season.
All of those high-performing players are 25-years-old or younger. Add to them the 27-year-old keystone combination of Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro, and you have the core of a championship-caliber team that could play together — and win together — for years to come. And there are more highly-touted prospects on the way. Boone is charged with overseeing their maturation.
Make no mistake about it, the hiring of Boone is not a quick fix designed to merely get the Yankees to the promised land next season. (Although, that would be a nice start.) Boone was brought aboard to preside over a new era of lasting success for a franchise that already represents the gold standard in professional sports.
Pressure in the AL East race
If winning it all isn't enough, then it probably goes without saying that settling for a Wild Card spot won't cut it. The Red Sox won the AL East last year, but were promptly ousted in the Division Series and subsequently replaced their manager as well.
Pressure will be enormous on both Boone and new Boston manager Alex Cora next year. They’ll be expected to not only outperform each other, but also their own predecessors. When you think about it, only one can truly succeed. Something has to give.
Joe Girardi took over a New York squad that had been to the postseason 13 straight years. That streak was promptly broken, but Girardi was retained and delivered a championship in his sophomore effort.
Will Boone's leash be as long? It's hard to say, particularly if the Yankees take a step backwards next year.
With the home team winning every game in the 2017 ALCS, the argument could be made that the failure to clinch the top seed is what ultimately cost the Yankees the pennant. As anyone who has experienced the thrill can attest, The House That Ruth Built provides a daunting advantage in the playoffs. The Bombers were 6-0 in Yankee Stadium last postseason. That extra home game in the LCS could have made a difference.
That, combined with the fact that New York hasn't won the division since 2012, puts extra pressure on Boone to exceed last year's results. He has the unenviable task of being expected to win right away, while simultaneously building a firm foundation for the future.
Roster decisions to be made
Although the bulk of the roster is set, there are still decisions to be made. The biggest question looming over all of baseball concerns the destination of Shohei Ohtani.
It's no secret that Ohtani's desire is to both hit and pitch regularly in the big leagues. At this point, we might as well call it a contract demand, since it seems unlikely that he is going to sign with a team that does not offer him that guarantee. Brian Cashman broke his silence yesterday on the matter, stating he is ready to allow Ohtani to pursue his dream with the Yankees.
If New York does indeed land the Japanese phenom, it will fall on Boone to manage what would be an unprecedented arrangement. Never before has a star two-way player graced the major league stage on a full-time basis, not even Babe Ruth.
If Ohtani signs with the Yankees, it will take care of the two biggest roster questions. He will take the fifth spot in the rotation vacated by CC Sabathia, while also filling the DH role that had been a black hole since Matt Holliday's illness last June.
The flip side is, if Ohtani signs elsewhere, then Boone and Cashman have a pair of roster decisions to make. Could CC be brought back for an encore to fill out the rotation? Should the Yankees pursue another free agent pitcher? A third possibility is a spring training competition between in-house options, such as Luis Cessa, Domingo German, or Chance Adams.
Without Ohtani, the designated hitter spot also presents some interesting options. The team could pursue a big-name free agent, such as JD Martinez. Alternatively, Boone could hold a battle in camp. Perhaps Clint Frazier or Miguel Andujar would be in the running? We could see Gleyber Torres make the team and Chase Headey become the primary DH.
Obviously, not all of these decisions will be made exclusively by Boone. A lot depends upon who Cashman signs. There is no word yet regarding the level of input Boone will have on player acquisitions.
Despite all the criticism he got from fans, Girardi seemed to push a lot of the right buttons personnel-wise last year. His decision to hold a right-field spring training competition between Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks resulted in both having fantastic years. Ditto with his call to name Jordan Montgomery fifth starter and move Chad Green to the bullpen. The bar has been set high for Aaron Boone.
Coaching staff in flux
The contracts of the entire coaching staff expired following the World Series. Pitching coach Larry Rothchild is the only one confirmed to be returning.
Boone is widely expected to be given latitude to make at least some coaching choices. There has also been speculation that he could possibly bring in a bench coach with experience managing at the big league level. Could we see a return of Tony Pena? How about Willie Randolph?
Jim Leyland could make an interesting choice for bench coach. A pair of finalists for the managing job, Carlos Beltran and Hensley Meulens, could also make intriguing picks for the coaching staff. Two coaches who won't be joining Boone in pinstripes next year are fellow managerial candidate Rob Thomson, who is expected to take a position with the Phillies, and Joe Espada, who joined the Astros.
With the hot stove poised to ignite, the Yankees finally have their new manager in place. Since Boone carries no management resume for us to dissect, we'll just have to be content with watching things unfold. Who knows, maybe someday we'll look back at Boone's hiring as the beginning of a memorable era for the New York Yankees.