The perception coming out of the Aaron Boone press conference is that the Yankees want the new manager to shower players with love as a way of getting the most out of them, none more so than Gary Sanchez.
But after talking to Yankee people, I think it’s more complicated than that.
In fact, two sources say there is a misperception that management was unhappy with Joe Girardi for publicly scolding Sanchez in regard to his defense last season.
Actually, they say, the issue was more that Girardi wasn’t tough enough on Sanchez behind closed doors, at least in terms of his practice habits, which may have led to the catcher regressing defensively, compared to his rookie season.
Essentially the Yankees felt Sanchez performed better behind the plate when first called to the majors in 2016, in no small part because he had been drilled regularly in the minors by former organizational catching instructor Josh Paul, especially in blocking balls in the dirt.
Paul used a pitching machine to pump high-velocity fastballs, as well as breaking balls, in the dirt at Sanchez, and the Yankees believe it made a difference in what is the young catcher’s biggest weakness.
However, sources say that Sanchez grew tired of doing the drills and expressed that to Girardi going into last season. The manager, perhaps wanting to keep his young catcher happy or simply avoid a conflict, told him he didn’t have to do all the extra work.
That may that led to more problems with passed balls, as Sanchez’s total of 16 was the highest the American League.
Whatever the cause, the poor defense did lead to Girardi publicly criticizing Sanchez around mid-season, indicating he believed it was mostly a matter of his catcher needing to put more effort into the job.
In fact, two sources say there is a misperception that management was unhappy with Joe Girardi for publicly scolding Gary Sanchez in regard to his defense last season.
It was rare for him to make critical comments about any player, so it became a big story, but Girardi seemed convinced that it brought about the desired results, saying late in the season that he saw significant improvement.
Still, the bottom line is that the Yankees saw the dynamic as part of a larger issue. That is, if Girardi had stronger relationships with players he would have been able to deal more openly with Sanchez to prevent his regression.
And that’s at least partly why you heard Boone at his press conference stressing the importance of building relationships in the clubhouse.
It makes for an easy narrative about the modern-day player needing to be coddled, and while there may be a bit of truth to the notion, the Yankees believe such connectivity, to quote the word GM Brian Cashman has used, is vital in dealing most effectively with problems in the clubhouse.
Boone, in turn, on Wednesday sounded like someone with plenty of managing or coaching experience, rather than none at all, when he explained how he’d handle crisis situations.
“When it comes to dealing with players, that’s where the relationships are so important,” he said. “It’s why I think, especially initially, one of my most important jobs is to gain the trust of the players _ to know they have someone who cares for them, because then that’s where you’re able to zero in, in a transparent and honest way.
“When you don’t have a good relationship with somebody, it’s sometimes hard to tell them something they don’t want to hear, or to get on them.
“But I feel like when the relationship exists, and they know it comes from a great place, I think you’re able to get through those times.”
When it comes to Gary Sanchez’s defense, Aaron Boone wants to be able impart tough love, if necessary.
Boone wasn’t speaking specifically of Sanchez, of course, but it was clear that he’d been told to expect questions about his catcher, and when he was asked for his “assessment of Sanchez,” he was quick to answer in that same mode.
“I have a priority in that Gary and my relationship is important,” Boone said. “I expect it to be very strong. My expectation is that he’s going to be one of the great, impact players on both sides of the ball for a long time to come.
“I’ve already texted back and forth a little bit, and I expect to meet up with him at some point in the next couple of weeks. It’s a really important relationship. My expectation is that he’s going to be a great player on both sides of the ball.”
When asked what Sanchez needed to do to get better, Boone mostly dodged the question, but even in doing so his words were revealing.
“I think we forget how young he is and how great he’s been so far,” the new manager said. “He’s been massively successful at one of the most demanding positions in all of sports. We’re going to continue to support him. We’re going to continue to build our relationship so that we can grow him in every facet, because we know what an impact player he can be.”
All of which sounds like, when it comes to Sanchez’s defense, Boone wants to be able impart tough love, if necessary.
The Yankees are hoping that will lead to “crisis prevention,” as one person put it, as opposed to “crisis intervention.”