Recently the “Mad Dog” (Christopher Russo) grilled New York Yankee manager Aaron Boone on his TV program Mad Dog Unleashed. Boone responded to questions about the offseason and the season ahead. It was a long interview, so I will summarize rather than give you many direct quotes.
Russo started with the offseason’s hot topic, the signing of DJ LeMahieu; he talked about the six-year signing and how Boone felt about it. Boone responded that it’s no secret what he has meant to the Yankees for the last two years; he has probably been the American League MVP during those years. Boone continued that DJ has shown that he loves New York, he loves playing here, and he is essential to the team. He drives the culture and is so important, leading off and with his defensive versatility. He is in the mold now, and he will finish his career as a Yankee. He’s a leader, and all the players gravitate to him.
Russo talking about Gleyber Torres and suggested that he had defensive challengers but appeared to be the Yankee’s shortstop for the future. Boone did not vocalize his agreement but shook his head in agreement. He has the ability; I think the biggest thing with Gleyber is he has to find that consistency. Boone said that shortstop is a demanding position, and you have to be excellent at the fundamentals. He reiterated that you have to be able to handle the routine plays over and over again. They briefly discussed Torres not being ready last season. Boone said he came into spring training ready, but he messed up a bit before summer camp and had to play catchup without the knowledge that there would be a season. Overall, Boone’s comments did not assure that Torres would be their future, but what he had to do to improve. They did not talk about his poor performance behind the plate.
The Mad Dog talked about how Corey Kluber could be a great pitcher for the Yankees, but with October in mind, how will you handle that? Responding, Boone said he’s healthy we feel he is in a good place, and we have reasons to be optimistic. Most of the injuries he has had are not the typical pitcher injuries that you worry about. Last year we got to see some of our younger players, and now bringing in Kluber, bringing in Taillon to add to that. Boone also told how he could protect pitchers with all the depth that the Yankees have. The discussion migrated to be more about the young pitchers and how they have advanced than about Kluber.
Russo did discuss the New York Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman and basically how he has blown the postseason the past two years and if Boone still had confidence in him? How does Aaron Boone help get Chapman’s confidence back and his ora in the ninth inning? Boone said I’m not worried about “Chappy’s” psyche or his ability to bounce back. “I have zero concern about that.” I think he is as good as ever, and he has now developed a split-finger fastball that I think will become an important pitch for him, especially as he ages and doesn’t have the 105 mph fastball. He is still a dominant dynamic closer that got caught a couple of times. He is going to be on the mound for the New York Yankees when we hopefully win a championship.
Russo intimated that Boone had to know this question was coming. Why do you think Gary Sanchez would be any better this year than in the last few years? I’m not asking that he be a Johnny Bench, but he should hit .250 and get 25 homers. Do you think he can do that? Boone responded that he certainly could do it. We’ve given him the confidence of our support, and we feel with him we have the best chance at a championship. Obviously, there were issues with him last season, and he had a tough year. We still feel he has the ability to be excellent on both sides of the ball. I’m excited about his offseason and where he is now. Boone indicated that Sanchez is going to be our number one starting catcher.Â He did not mention if he would catch for ace Gerrit Cole.
Boone also mentioned regarding Sanchez that last season Kyle Higashioka was pushing his way into the picture by hitting well and being a great defensive catcher. And as the season progressed, he was also showing power, and that entered into the equation. But Boone reiterated that he expected Gary Sanchez to be an All-Star catcher this season.
Fans will find it interested that Russo brought up the issue of Game two and having Deivi Garcia start the game. He asked if he wished he had left him in for a few more innings even though he gave up that home run? Boone smiled and struggled for words. Boone pointed out that Happ was totally aware that he might come in early in the game, saying that they talked about it for days. Boone admitted that it didn’t work out, but he also said he doesn’t know that the alternative would have worked. Moving away from that, Boone said with all their (Rays) lefties and switch hitters, they did an excellent job matching up with us. He went on to say that the Rays have done an excellent job in the last few years building their roster. We tried to match up, but it didn’t work out for the New York Yankees, and it doesn’t work out for 29 other teams each year.
They spoke briefly about Masahiro Tanaka, his successes and failures. Boone made it clear that he considered having Tanaka pitch for the New York Yankees was “a privilege.” He said as far as the culture was concerned, he had a lot of good players and good people and that Tanaka was at the head of that list. He was competitive and a joy to be around. I really like watching him. He talked about his unique personality and humor and that he was going to miss him.
In an almost humorous exchange, the dog referred to his friendship with A.J Hinch (the Astros manager in 2017). He asked if that have talked. Boone said that he had and still considered him a friend and has put 2017 behind him. He indicated that they had had a long conversation about things last spring. He is someone I’ll continue to talk to. I will look forward now to facing up against him now that he is the Detroit Tigers manager.
Even with all the pointed questions that Russo asked, Boone seemed to be happy to answer them and was very upbeat on the coming season. Curiously no mention was made about Brett Gardner and if he will be with the team in 2021.