New York Yankees baseball is back and Aaron Boone’s first press conference is in the books. Here’s what we know heading into 2021.
Aaron Boone’s first press conference of the 2021 season is in the books as pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Boone provided some much needed clarity on the New York Yankees’ plans heading into the season.
Boone gives Clint Frazier left field job
Clint Frazier’s Yankee career has been an absolute rollercoaster. From being one of the most exciting prospects in the system to his defensive struggles following a nasty concussion, he’s never gotten a real chance to show the team what he can do.
Well, 2021 is his chance. Boone confirmed what most already suspected, Frazier will be the starting left fielder in 2021.
"Clint has earned his place."
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 17, 2021
Frazier will finally get his chance in 2021 in large part due to his defensive improvements in the shortened 2020 season. In 2018 and 2019, he was an absolute liability in the field. He’s been very open about the effects his concussion had on his ability to field the ball. But the tools to be a good defender were always there. And when the concussion issues were finally behind him, he found himself as a gold glove candidate.
But the Yankees don’t actually need him to be a gold glove candidate again. Sure, it would be a nice addition to the team. But they really just need him to be playable in the outfield so Boone can keep him in the lineup. Frazier will always make his living at the plate. And now that he’s proven to no longer be that huge defensive liability, the Yankees can afford to play him full-time.
Gerrit Cole and Gary Sánchez will work together
Gary Sánchez was an unmitigated disaster in 2020. He’s never been an exceptional defensive catcher, but his offense has always kept him in the lineup.
But what do you do when your offensive-minded catcher isn’t hitting? You give his job to the backup catcher Kyle Higashioka and find out that your ace Gerrit Cole is much better with him behind the plate.
Heading into the 2021 season, many expected that Higashioka would at the very least serve as Cole’s personal catcher. But according to Boone, the Yankees don’t plan to make that decision yet.
Aaron Boone says there’s “no plan” to automatically pair Gerrit Cole and Kyle Higashioka. We’ll see how spring goes.
— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) February 17, 2021
It may shake out like that anyway. But if Sánchez can bounce back offensively, the Yankees would rather him be able to catch Cole as well. 2020 wasn’t exactly a representative sample size, so it’s very possible that Sánchez can catch Cole just as well as Higashioka.
However, if the 2020 trend holds up, the Yankees will have no choice but to pair Cole and Higashioka again. It’s the more likely scenario at this point, but there’s no harm in Cole and Sánchez trying to work together in spring training.
Brett Gardner’s future is still unclear
Brett Gardner was the only player left from the 2009 World Series champion Yankees in 2020. And most fans expected the team to sign him on an affordable deal to provide defensive depth in the outfield.
But on the first official day of spring training, Gardner remains in the free agency pool. The Yankees continue to make moves like signing Jay Bruce and Justin Wilson that make a Gardner deal less likely. They’ve already dubbed Clint Frazier the starting left fielder and have Mike Tauchman penciled in as the fourth outfielder.
However, Boone isn’t shutting the door on a Gardner reunion just yet.
Aaron Boone said he last spoke to Brett Gardner a couple of weeks ago. Asked if he expects to have Gardner in camp before Opening Day, Boone said: "We'll see."
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 17, 2021
Gardner’s future in New York certainly doesn’t look good. But Boone made it clear that the door is still technically open. He would be a nice addition to the team for his defensive prowess and veteran presence in the locker room. But at the end of the day, the Yankees don’t really need Gardner in 2021.
It wouldn’t feel right to have his last season played in front of empty stadiums, but this team has World Series aspirations and every move they make needs to serve those goals. Re-signing Brett Gardner shouldn’t play a huge role in reaching the mountaintop this year.
The Yankees have one of the best rosters in Major League Baseball heading into 2021, but it’s not without its question marks. Boone reiterated that health will once again play a huge role in how far this team can go. The Yankees have done a good job in adding some depth, but their hopes lie solely with their star players being able to stay on the field.
Aaron Boone has a World Series caliber team on his hands. And following a weird 2020 season, he’ll need to manage it extremely carefully to keep everybody on the field. The number one priority will be ensuring that everyone is ready to go come October. If Boone can do that, the Yankees have a good chance of walking out of the 2021 season with a trophy.