The New York Giants were stuck in the mud. After an improbable title run that culminated in yet another fourth-quarter game-winning drive led by quarterback Eli Manning, the team became the embodiment of complacency. Failing to adapt “The Giants Way” to the post-2011 lockout rules changes that limited practice time and changed draft pick contracts, the Giants first saw their offensive and defensive schemes fall apart.
Looking for fresh blood, the Giants parted ways with a likely Hall of Fame coach in Tom Coughlin and brought in a first-time coach who was very good as an offensive coordinator but who clearly wasn’t ready for the top job. One embarrassing moment later — they benched Manning not for rookie Davis Webb, but then-journeyman Geno Smith — and both that coach and the well-liked general manager who hired him were shown the door...only to be replaced by an abrasive, egotistical, and analytics-averse GM who operated as if the NFL hadn’t evolved since 1990. And with him came and went one head coach, then another, before finally the entire coaching staff and front-office leadership were swept aside after the football equivalent of bunting with two outs and the bases loaded in a tie game with a position player on the mound.
Before you scroll to the top of the page and wonder if you accidentally clicked on Big Blue View and not Pinstripe Alley, trust me, this is all relevant. While far from the dark days of the 2013-2021 Giants that can be described as the Wilderness Years Season 2, the Yankees nonetheless have some institutional complacency. Take a look at the team’s staff, and you’ll see many names that have become entrenched in their positions. COO Lonn Trost has been with the team for more than four decades. Brian Cashman has been the general manager since 1998 and involved in leadership for even longer. Randy Levine has been the team president since 2000. Damon Oppenheimer has been in player development since 2001. Michael Fishman, the assistant general manager who headlines their analytics department, was brought on board in 2005. Tim Naehring, the VP of baseball operations, started as a scout in the front office and was appointed to his current role in 2015.
I could keep going, but the point is clear: much like the Giants, the Yankees’ front office is filled with people who have been with the organization a long time. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing — sustained success generally doesn’t result in pink slips, after all — this also means that the Yankees have not been exposed to innovations from other organizations. Given enough time, lack of innovation causes you to fall behind, and in the case of the Yankees, that has reared its head with the team trying to recreate the 2019 #NextManUp team, believing in their ability to find diamonds in the rough rather than truly competing in the AL arms race with the Astros, Mariners, Rays, and now, the Orioles.
Fortunately, the New York Giants also provide the Yankees with the key for removing any organizational rot and breathing fresh life into the franchise: poaching key officials from the most successful organizations in the sport. With the Giants, that meant hiring a general manager and head coach from the Bills, pulling in an offensive coordinator from the Chiefs, and adding an assistant general manager from the rival Eagles; this combination not only brought a team that had won four games the year prior to the playoffs, it also changed the perception of the organization both among fans and league insiders pretty much overnight.
Either fortunately or unfortunately, Yankees fans are currently getting an up close and personal look at the organization the team needs to draw inspiration — and hopefully personnel — from, the Braves.
There are many reasons to highlight Atlanta as the best organization for the Yankees to emulate. Entering play yesterday, they had MLB’s best record at 76-42, on pace for 104 wins. Their 5.85 runs/game and 122 OPS+ lead all of baseball, as does their 116 ERA+. They clearly have built great rapport with their players, getting them to sign team-friendly extensions to keep the band together long-term, and so far, their personnel department has done a good job identifying which players to extend and which to trade away. Their top prospects have become impact players, their trades have worked out (the Matt Olson and Sean Murphy deals have given them more value than the Joey Gallo, Frankie Montas, Andrew Benintendi, and Anthony Rizzo deals combined), and they’ve been able to turn journeymen into big contributors at a rate comparable to the 2019 Yankees. In short, they’ve done everything a successful big league organization needs to do to build a winner.
Most importantly, however, the Braves have done it by building the lineup the Yankees intended to. While they get their fair share of doubles and have multiple stolen base threats (Ronald Acuña Jr. gets most of the attention, but Ozzie Albies and Michael Harris II are no slouches on the basepaths either), Atlanta’s offense begins, ends, and runs on the long ball. Heading into action last night, the Braves led the league with 227 home runs, 40 ahead of the second-place Dodgers. Six players have 20 or more home runs. They’re currently on pace to match the 2019 Twins’ single-season record of 307, a total set during the juiciest year of the juiced ball era.
Despite the disaster this season has become, it’s extremely unlikely that the Yankees will overturn everything the front office has built. To an extent, I understand the logic of that, even beyond the fact that Cashman has a brand new deal — with so many large contracts on the books, they’re unlikely to enter a sustained rebuild, and the team has done a much better job developing pitchers ever since Matt Blake came aboard. At least when it comes to building a lineup, the current team’s biggest problem, the Braves have the exact sample philosophy; they’ve simply executed that philosophy better. And because of that, they are the perfect model for the Yankees to steal from if they want to become the Bombers once more.