NEW YORK — Not much is wrong with the New York Yankees in the view of manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman.
While stung by a five-game loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Division Series, the Yankees leadership does not appear to anticipate large-scale changes for 2021.
Catcher Gary Sanchez’s job could be in danger after a third straight down season, but Gleyber Torres’ hold on shortstop is solid despite shaky defense. Starting pitching will be a focus for improvement.
“As much as we constantly are going to try to improve here, and there’s going to be tweaks to the roster as a result of that, I think it’s also important to note just how still close we are to being the last team standing,” Boone said Wednesday. “I understand the frustrations of the fan base, but I think if you really look at it, it’s razor thin, the difference between us and say the team that’s going to win the World Series this year.”
New York had its second straight injury-filled season but was mostly healthy for the postseason. A second-place finish with a 33-27 record, seven games behind Tampa Bay, included the major league high in errors with 48 and the Yankees’ poorest fielding percentage since 1973.
Still, they swept Cleveland in the first round before getting eliminated by the Rays. They haven’t reached the World Series since winning in 2009.
“Ultimately, we ran up against a team that was better,” Cashman said. “They proved in a marathon of 60 games that they were better. And then they proved in the sprint of the Division Series that they were better.”
During the end-of-the-season news conference, Cashman said first baseman Luke Voit was evaluated by Dr. Martin O’Malley of the Hospital for Special Surgery and had a platelet-rich plasma injection to treat plantar fasciitis. Voit, the big league home run leader with 22, will be in a boot for a week.
Third baseman Gio Urshela did not need surgery for a bone spur in his right elbow. Right-hander Luis Severino, recovering from Tommy John surgery on Feb. 27, is in his third week of a throwing program and could be back in the major leagues in June or July.
Among the biggest roster decisions, AL batting champion DJ LeMahieu is eligible for free agency along with pitchers Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton. The Yankees have options on reliever Zack Britton ($13 million for 2021 and $14 million for 2022 that must be exercised together, tied to a $13 million player option for 2021 if the club first declines), pitcher J.A. Happ ($17 million) and Brett Gardner ($10 million).
Giancarlo Stanton, viewed by the Yankees as a designated hitter after another injury-wrecked season, is expected to keep the remaining $218 million and seven guaranteed seasons left in his contract rather than opt out. Sanchez, benched for four of five games against the Rays in favor of backup Kyle Higashioka, was given far from an endorsement by Cashman. Sanchez hit .147 during the pandemic-shortened season and while his defense has improved, it remains below average.
“We have to determine whether this was a byproduct of unique circumstances or more reflection of what is to be expected as we move forward,” Cashman said. “And it could very well be a change, it could very well be a competition, could very well be other. I don’t know, because we haven’t had those conversations. But I know Gary’s capable of a lot.”
Torres made nine errors in his first season as Didi Gregorius’ full-time successor at shortstop, one shy of the major league high.
“I think for Gleyber, it’s about becoming excellent at the routine. Ultimately, that’s what separates really good shortstops from average to below average,” Boone said.
Both Cashman and Boone defended the decision to start rookie Deivi Garcia as an opener in Game 2 against the Rays and replace him after one inning with Happ. Garcia gave up a solo homer and Happ a pair of two-run drives in a 7-5 loss. Happ said he preferred to start. Boone maintained he made the choice to prevent Tampa Bay from filling its batting order with right-handed hitters against Happ.
“He’s been a guy over the last three years that there’s about a 200 point OPS difference when he faces lefties vs. righties and just trying to exploit that a little bit,” Boone said. “I think that room understands that ultimately I’m writing out the lineup and I’m making these decisions,” he added. “I think people understand that I listen to coaches. I listen to front-office personnel, especially when we’re making a big decision or a big change or something that may be out of the box, I certainly consult with a lot of people. But I think our guys understand that ultimately it’s my decision.”
Cashman denied decisions are commanded from above.
“I know there’s that narrative that’s been asked several times about the manager being a puppet and all that,” he said. “None of that’s true. I’ve never ordered a manager to do anything specifically, and Aaron would be able to testify to that as well as Joe Girardi and Joe Torre, they’ve never been directed at any time by me or our front office to do something that they didn’t want to do.”
Cashman is comfortable with the decisions that were made.
“When you lose, obviously then, a lot of things happen,” he said. “You get dissected, finger points and stuff like that.”