Aaron Boone produced mixed results during his first year in the dugout as Yankees manager. On the plus side, he marshaled his squad to the franchise’s first 100-win season since 2009. Boone oversaw the successful integration of many youngsters, as the Bombers overcame countless injuries to key players to achieve a nine-win improvement over the previous season.
On the other hand, the team’s postseason run ended much quicker than it had in 2017, as Boone was outmaneuvered by Red Sox manager Alex Cora during New York’s Division Series loss to Boston. There were also numerous issues surrounding the club that festered unresolved all season long.
Many were surprised when the front office dismissed longtime manager Joe Girardi after he guided his upstart roster to a deep postseason run that took the Yankees to within one win of the World Series — during what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. At the time, General Manager Brian Cashman said that Girardi’s “communication and connectivity” with his players was a concern.
Although Cashman refused to cite examples, he acknowledged that “there were a number” of issues. People naturally assumed that one of those unmentionable situations was Girardi’s handling of All-Star catcher Gary Sanchez. After all, Girardi benched him at one point, saying “he needs to improve. Bottom line.”
Enter Boone, who immediately prioritized establishing a good relationship with the young backstop. Unfortunately, Boone’s efforts failed to yield any visible results, as Sanchez appeared to take a step backward in 2018.
Despite logging only 653 innings behind the dish, Sanchez led MLB with 18 passed balls, whereas he allowed 16 over 881 frames during the 2017 campaign. Sanchez also struggled on offense, slashing a woeful .186/.291/.406 with only 18 home runs. The Kraken smashed 33 long balls in 2017, setting a new franchise single-season mark by a catcher in the process.
Sanchez was hampered by a groin injury throughout the 2018 season, and we have no way of knowing exactly how much this contributed to his struggles on both sides of the ball. Boone is leaving nothing to chance however, and demonstrated that he is unwilling to simply ignore the relationship aspect. Quite the contrary, as evidenced by Boone’s offseason efforts to connect with Sanchez. Boone and his wife flew to the Dominican Republic this winter to visit Sanchez and his wife, Sahaira.
”Getting to go and have dinner with him and his wife in his country, and to just deepen the relationship, and to see him talk passionately about things that matter to him,” Boone said. “I just feel like there’s been a growth there and a maturity there that comes out when I’m around him and when I talk to him now.”
A lot of Yankees fans were very frustrated with Boone at times last season. I have to admit, I was one of them. I grew tired of watching him leave pitchers in too long, and wanted to scream over the seeming inability to solve certain season-long problems like those exhibited by players including — but certainly not limited to — Sanchez.
But Boone traveling to the Dominican Republic to spend time with Sanchez and his wife in their home is stunning — in a good way. I mean, it’s one thing to drive from Englewood to Fort Lee for dinner, but to travel to a foreign country with your wife in tow? That’s going above and beyond. I’ve never heard of a manager doing that before. A lot of guys might make a phone call to connect with a player, while others wouldn’t even bother to do that.
Although Boone understandably did not detail the time he spent with Sanchez in the Dominican Republic, he did provide a glowing report about his starting catcher at the start of spring training.
”He’s in a really good place physically, and his body’s in good shape, and all the testing that he’s doing behind the scenes suggests that he’s physically in a really good place,” Boone said. “But I feel like mentally he’s ready to go out and in a lot of ways take charge.”
I give Boone the highest possible praise for going to any and all lengths to strengthen his relationship with someone who is undeniably a key player for the Yankees. Sanchez may very well be the next great Yankees catcher, and not to overstate this, but the game-caller may be the single most important player on the field. To a certain extent, the pitcher’s performance is largely dependent on his relationship with the catcher.
We must recognize that some things take time. Not every problem can be solved with a single conversation. Good managers understand that their success depends upon their relationships with the people that they are tasked with managing. Management is always about people, and Boone is showing us precisely why the Yankees hired him.