NEW YORK — The Yankees are finally making some moves. Over a week after they were booted from the postseason by the Red Sox, the team informed hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere along with third base coach Phil Nevin that they would not have their contracts renewed for 2022, sources confirmed Thursday.
There is still no decision on Aaron Boone, the team’s manager for the past four years, whose contract will officially expire after the World Series.
So what does shuffling the coaching staff mean? More importantly, what will it actually accomplish? This is just two years after they made what they thought were significant changes, firing long-time pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Josh Bard as bench coach and rebuilding their strength, conditioning and training staff. How big of a difference has that made?
There is no question the Yankees offense disappointed this season. It is the reason they are sitting home about to watch the Red Sox and Astros battle in the American League Championship Series Friday night.
The Yankees were built on power hitters and to overwhelm their opponents with offense, but finished seventh in the American League in OPS (.729), 10th in runs scored (711) and were fourth in strikeouts (1,482). That had fans calling for the heads of Thames and Pilittere.
But how does a hitting coach directly correlate to players’ performances? If they are responsible, then these are the same hitting coaches that had the Yankees leading the league in OPS in 2020 and runs scored in 2019.
Nevin drew criticism most recently for sending Aaron Judge who was thrown out at home in the wild-card game. Considering how desperate the Yankees were for runs this season, there is a case to be made for being aggressive. The Yankees were not a good baserunning team at all this year, with 50 outs on the bases. That included leading the AL with 22 outs at home plate. Baserunning is something players should get to the big leagues with a good idea about, but the Yankees clearly struggled with this.
Obviously coaches are easier and quicker — and cheaper — to fire than trying to revamp a whole lineup or organization. They can be the sacrificial move when a fan base of customers want their pound of flesh.
So there is some change the Yankees can point to, but it’s hard to see how much change in the on-field product that these moves will actually make. The Yankees are still left with a lineup full of streaky hitters that will go through ups and downs. They still have an organization full of players who seemingly have not mastered the basics of baserunning.
Sure, there are some bullpen management and pinch-hit questions about Boone’s in-game managing. But the final grade for Boone this year has to be a B, because of the roster he was dealt and the obstacles — including the MLB’s decision to enforce the sticky stuff rules midseason — the Yankees had to overcome just to get to the playoffs.
After hearing player after player say they want to play for Boone, realizing the age of the screaming and yelling manager is over and knowing that the willingness to cooperate with the front office is the ultimate skill that GMs look for these days, it’s hard to believe there will be a drastic change in on-field leadership. Even if they do let Boone walk, they will find a similar type of manager.
Especially since it seems that the same people will be making the firing/hiring decision. The same year they hired Boone, they gave Brian Cashman a contract extension, which still has a year left.
In Boone’s four years, the Yankees have won 328 games and been to the playoffs each year. They lost in the fifth game of the ALCS in 2019, the division series twice and this year’s wild-card game.