Aaron Boone New York Yankees
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

From the front office to the dugout, the New York Yankees are full of soft spots. It’s time for the Baby Bombers to toughen up.

Aaron Case

When I think of the end of the New York Yankees season in 2018, one image comes to mind: Aaron Judge smiling at a Knicks game while Boston played Houston in the ALCS.

Now, I have to be careful here. Judge earned himself some R&R after going 8-for-18 with three home runs in the 2018 postseason. Also, there’s nothing wrong with a young dude enjoying life after a loss.

That picture just makes me cringe because it perfectly represents the Yankees’ “aw shucks, the Red Sox are good, but we’re pretty darn good too” attitude this offseason, evident in the Yankees management this offseason.

The front office

Yankees president Randy Levine made headlines recently when he said that the Yankees and Red Sox are equals. For context, here’s the full quote, as reported by Ken Davidoff of the New York Post:

“I think we’re as good as the Red Sox right now. I think they had a better postseason than us. … They have a great team and they’re going to be a really great team for a long time, but I think we’re as good as they are.”

The accuracy of that statement is debatable, but the sentiment is all wrong. As president of the Yankees, if Levine really believes what he said, his next words should have described how much better than the Sox the Bombers will be after Brian Cashman cleans up in the offseason.

But all he said—and I’m reading between the lines a bit—was that maybe the Yankees will spend a lot of money this offseason, if Hal Steinbrenner lets them.

The Yankees front office should be angry. They should have snatched Nathan Eovaldi away from the Red Sox in free agency, just to turn their own postseason hero on them. Let the Red Sox sign J.A. Happ instead. After his dud in the 2018 ALDS, he’s not exactly inspiring fear in his opponents.

Here’s a quick way to give the Yankees some executive grit: hire Conor McGregor to replace Levine. The Bronx could use a little Notorious swagger at the forefront of their PR.

The manager

Not long after Levine made his comments, manager Aaron Boone made a similar statement to SNY at the MLB Winter Meetings:

“Obviously, they were an unbelievable team this year, a monster. But we also understand that we feel like we’re very much on level ground with them. You know, we’ve obviously got areas that we need to improve to kind of close that gap, but we feel like when we’re at our best we’re as good as anyone.”

Again, Yankees fans want to hear about how the team will be better than Boston. Use a little less tact; call your team a World Series favorite.

New York Yankees

To make matters worse, Boone later showed up on TV hanging out and laughing with Red Sox manager Alex Cora and Houston skipper A.J. Hinch. The trio talked about how they text each other during the season.

It’s not the same sport, but contrast that with Milwaukee Bucks’ star Giannis Antetokounmpo’s reaction to training with opponents during the offseason.

“I can’t work out with you in the summer and then play you in a few months,” the Greek Freak told The Athletic’s Eric Nehm. “It feels weird. It doesn’t feel right with me. … I don’t want [opponents] to see me to be buddy-buddy with me.”

The NBA season ends in June. Maybe after that, the Yankees can bring in Antetokounmpo as a special assistant to the manager.

The players

If management can just show a little fire, the players will follow suit.

Not all the players are soft. CC Sabathia demonstrated his toughness when he hit Tampa’s Jesus Sucre to retaliate for the Rays hitting Austin Romine. Sabathia lost $500,000 in the process, but his old-school honor was far more important than money.

Then there’s Masahiro Tanaka. He’s a true ace when the games matter most—in the playoffs. He’s got an excellent 3.59 career ERA in the regular season; his 1.50 ERA in 30 career postseason innings is on a completely different level.

The rest of the team has room for improvement, though. That much is evident in the Yankees’ firing of Joe Girardi.

According to John Harper at the New York Daily News, sources within the Yankees organization said that Girardi was fired in part because he wasn’t hard enough on Gary Sanchez. The sources are of course referring to Sanchez’s passed ball proclivity.

Apparently, Boone also wasn’t hard enough on his catcher, as Sanchez found a way to lead the MLB in passed balls in 2018, despite only playing 76 games at the position.

Boone has to correct that in 2019. He’s also responsible for helping Miguel Andujar improve his defense at third base.

But even more important than fixing the soft spots in his defense, Boone has to motivate his players to get nasty, especially against the Red Sox. I don’t mean nasty in the way Ty Cobb was nasty, though.

I’m talking about grinding out close wins against the best teams; I’m talking about flipping the script on Boston and wrapping up the East early in the season—and rubbing it in with some slow home run trots and overcomplicated high-fives.

The fire is there. It’s in Judge, who tried to project some attitude when he played Frank Sinatra at Fenway Park. It’s in Luis Severino, who can’t find a way to carry his early season confidence into the postseason.

Bring out the fire in 2019, and hopefully, the next time Aaron Judge’s smiling mug shows up at Madison Square Garden, he’s celebrating a championship.

Elite Access