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Aaron Boone: the good, the bad, and the ... new contract?

Aaron Boone has had his highs and lows as the Yankees’ skipper. What he does next might define his legacy.

MLB: New York Yankees at Atlanta Braves Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to start this one off with a statement, and then circle back to it at the end. Here it is: Being the manager of the New York Yankees is the single hardest job in North American professional sports.

After the Yankees didn’t renew Joe Girardi’s contract in 2017, Aaron Boone was brought in to lead the young core. While Girardi was more of a calculated, numbers-driven manager (remember the binders?) with a short fuse, Boone was the hip, cool new guy who would meet the players at their level and help manage the clubhouse as much as he was expected to manage the game.

In 517 career games as manager, Boone has led his team to a 313-204 record (.605 win percentage). The Yankees won the AL East in 2019 and have finished no lower than second in the division in his other two years at the helm, and this season is more of the same in that regard. For most other organizations, that would be an indication to fans that they hired the right guy for the job. To a number of Yankees fans, however, he simply isn’t cutting it. How has fan perception of Boone distorted itself so much?

Much like everything else Yankees-related, you have to start with the postseason. In 2018, the Yankees lost in four games to the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS. The next year, the Yankees lost in six games to the Houston Astros in the ALCS. Finally, last season, the Yankees lost the ALDS in five games to the Tampa Bay Rays. Making the ALDS-or-later in your first three seasons would be a mark of success for most managers, but this is a Yankees team that hasn’t won the World Series since 2009. Anything less than a title is a failure.

Scaling down a bit from the big picture, fans have begun to question his on-field decision-making. Zack Britton came out and asked to be removed from the closer role. The very next game, Britton came in to close it out in extras. After giving up two walks and a hit, Britton was pulled in favor of rookie Albert Abreu after recording just one out.

Mismanagement of the bullpen is just one of the issues that have plagued Boone. Earlier in the season, the defense and baserunning were so bad that MLB experts and fans alike were openly criticizing the team’s lack of fundamentals. Coupled with the fact that they couldn’t get anything going on offense, these unforced errors put Boone’s managerial prowess under a microscope.

And then there’s the issue of lineup construction. At a time when the Yankees should be trying to chase down the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays, Boone is, more often than not, running out a lineup filled with head-scratching decisions. For instance, instead of committing to the Death Star lineup, Boone routinely takes at-bats away from one of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, or Luke Voit in favor of Brett Gardner. And, I never thought I’d say this, but a red-hot Tyler Wade is routinely benched for a player who currently has a 67 wRC+.

Did I cover everything? Probably not, but let’s call it a wrap on the bad. For everyone that dislikes Boone, I’m about to ruin your day with one take: at season’s end, Aaron Boone is going to earn AL Manager of the Year votes. Hell, even Mike Petriello agrees with me:

Since July 1st, the Yankees have gone 36-17 (.679 win percentage). In that time, the Yankees have produced a 13-game winning streak, catapulted themselves to the top of the Wild Card standings, find themselves within striking distance of the division, and have the seventh-best record in the entire league.

Why did I set July 1st as the benchmark? Because on that date, Hal Steinbrenner made a rare media appearance to publicly back the embattled manager. Sure, Boone has stumbled along the way — the recent Luke Voit playing time saga surely isn’t doing him any favors — but he absolutely deserves some credit for getting the team back on course.

And can we talk about injuries for a second? By the end of June, Boone had lost Aaron Hicks and both of his left fielders in Clint Frazier and Miguel Andújar for the season. Luke Voit has had three separate stints on the IL. Gleyber Torres is currently working his way back from a thumb injury. Corey Kluber just pitched for the first time since May. Aroldis Chapman missed time with an elbow injury and Zack Britton is officially done for the year. Luis Severino, who the team was counting on getting back for the stretch run, has had multiple setbacks. And, at this point, it’d probably be easier to list the players who haven’t missed time due to COVID-19 outbreaks. I’m sure I’m missing some other major injuries, but the list truly goes on and on for this team.

And yet, the Yankees are still in the position that they are. If the season ended today, they are hosting the Wild Card game with Gerrit Cole on the mound backing up one of baseball’s hottest offenses at the plate. I’d take my chances with that.

There are still a lot of games to be played, but to think that Aaron Boone is somehow on the hot seat is simply misguided. I won’t go as far as to say a new contract is guaranteed — his current contract expires this year and a late season implosion would likely put a wrench in any sort of new contract talks — but, for the fans clamoring for him to be canned, the odds aren’t looking like they’re in your favor.

Remember that line I told you to remember from the jump? Here it is again: being the manager of the New York Yankees is the single hardest job in North American professional sports. After all, for what other franchise would fans be calling for a manager who has posted a .605 win percentage and led his team to the postseason in each of his first three seasons to be fired? For what it’s worth, Kevin Cash and Alex Cora have win percentages of .536 and .584, respectively. I’m not saying I’m pro- or anti-Aaron Boone. I’m just saying that maybe this situation isn’t as black-and-white as it appears to be.

But who knows. Maybe Steinbrenner will pull a Masai Ujiri and fire Aaron Boone after all of this. (For non-basketball fans, the President of the Toronto Raptors fired head coach Dwane Casey ... in the same year he won Coach of the Year.) Only time will tell.