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Aaron Boone is just one piece of the puzzle

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The Yankees’ skipper is back, but whether it matters or not is not all on him.

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
“I manage games like I chew gum.”
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

This is not a defense of Aaron Boone. On the Pinstripe Alley Podcast and in my Slack conversations, I’ve gone on record multiple times about the fact that I don’t think Boone should be back in the Yankees’ dugout in 2022. I’m certainly not happy that the Yankees chose to officially bring him back on a three-year deal, but that’s the reality that fans are forced to face. So, no, this isn’t a defense of Aaron Boone, but rather acceptance, compromise, and anger all rolled into one.

My reasons for not wanting Aaron Boone to come back were pretty simple. On paper in March, the 2021 Yankees were arguably the best team in the American League. They should have waltzed to the ALCS and probably even the World Series with their eyes closed. Yet they struggled to even reach the Wild Card Game (where they promptly flopped). They had depth and talent up and down the lineup, yet the offense looked so lifeless and uninspired.

I dreamed of watching the 2021 Yankees crush their opponents, hit all the dingers, and have fun along the way. By season’s end, though, I’d watched less of the 2021 Yankees than I did of the 2013-14 editions, which both missed the playoffs. Of course, I must acknowledge that I’ve grown in that time, gotten married, and accepted that I don’t need to watch every single game, but the problem wasn’t that I didn’t have time to watch the Yankees — it’s that I didn’t even want to try and make time, or care about making time to watch them.

This season definitely had its share of fun moments, but overall, it was a very annoying season to get through and I was OK with missing that slog. And I put a lot of that blame squarely on the shoulders of Aaron Boone. Aaron Boone was my scapegoat. This team is not one move or change away from significantly improving, though. Ultimately, there are a lot of parts that need to be addressed and while I was ready to bid Boone farewell, that’s why I’m also not mad about his return.

Earlier in the season — when it became clear that these Yankees would underachieve — Hal Steinbrenner gave Boone a vote of confidence, calling him a hard worker and placing a lot of the blame on the players. While the players definitely needed to perform better, the jobs of the coaches and managers are to help the players when they’re not doing that, so it’s odd to only blame the men on the field.

Still, Steinbrenner echoed similar support for Boone once the team announced his re-signing:

I couldn’t care less about the support for Boone, but what stood out to me was calling out the “need to get better.” And this is where I find myself unable to get too angry about Boone. When it comes down to it, the one holding this team back is Steinbrenner. He’s the one who signs off on spending. He’s the one who has luxury tax-inspired mandates. It’s his team, and Brian Cashman can only build with what he’s allowed and Aaron Boone can only manage the team he’s given.

Of course a team with a $210 million budget should be able to field a contender (and they did), but a club with the financial resources of the Yankees shouldn’t have to limit themselves either. Limiting their financial might is one problem, but their resource allocation is also a big problem (that falls on Cashman as well). I don’t care that Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman combine to make $30 million. I do care that the Yankees will give two relievers that much money and then say that they don’t have room to spend on more premium positions.

The Yankees seem to be fine with going past the luxury tax threshold once they’ve reset their penalties, but their timing has not lined up with where they needed to spend and who was available at the time. And once they get close to entering repeat offender territory and paying the penalty, they sacrifice the team’s chances in order to hang that luxury tax banner. If they insist on never paying the penalties, they need to be smarter about how they spend their money.

Where this team goes next year and beyond will ultimately be decided by the owner, and more likely, where the CBA talks go this winter. If Steinbrenner signs off on spending, Cashman can comfortably fill the rotation, shortstop, center field, and first base gaps. With better players on the roster, Boone’s job becomes that much easier.

Of course, we saw this year how good players can still struggle, and that’s where the rest of the coaching staff comes into play. The players do seem to genuinely like Boone, especially Aaron Judge, who had this to say after the team’s season finally came to an end:

“There’s a lot of good answers for that besides being a great manager and leading this team the past couple of years, to winning over 100 games, his leadership skills being even-keeled through the ups and downs, the good times and bad times, that’s part of it,” Judge said. “When you are the manager of this team and you wear the N.Y. and you wear these pinstripes, it’s a heavy burden. But a guy like Booney, man, he wears it with pride, shows up to work every day and gets us prepared the right way, keeps us motivated and gets on guys when he needs to. It’s been a pleasure the past couple of years to play for him and fight for him every single day. I could spend all night giving you reasons why he should still be the manager.”

Keeping Judge, the best and most important player on the team, happy is obviously a must, and if he actually loves Boone this much, he’s probably happy about this morning’s news. Still, while Boone is no longer a rookie on the job, he still needs to surround himself with good and experienced coaches to assist him with the day-to-day baseball stuff while he manages clubhouse morale. It was evident this year that Marcus Thames, P.J. Pilittere, and Phil Nevin were simply not getting the job done. Although Boone was my scapegoat, those three coaches were the Yankees’ scapegoats and a coaching search has begun in the Bronx — just not for the top seat.

So one big part of the offseason puzzle if officially in place. While it will almost certainly be a source of frustration for many, the success or failure of Aaron Boone’s return will depend on much more than him. If they get better players and coaches with fresh ideas, Boone may ultimately be fine and can help guide the team to success. If the areas of concern don’t improve, then there’s only so much he can do.