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Brad Penner | USA TODAY Sports

The last-place Yankees are in a free fall, one so bad that we’re finally asking the question: What if this is the end of Aaron Boone?

All the signs are there. Gleyber Torres is the only one hitting consistently well. Aaron Judge is still injured. Gerrit Cole is the only reliable pitcher as the Yankees sink deeper and deeper.

And instead of being the calming presence of the post-Girardi era, Boone has instead eerily become like his predecessor. Being short with the media on several occasions, sometimes even passive-aggressive, only means one thing.

The man has lost the team.

Even owner Hal Steinbrenner, quite the opposite of bombastic father George, acknowledged missing the playoffs could mean asking “tough questions” about making changes. Brian Cashman has three years left on his contract, so that means the manager is first on the chopping block.

In that case, who manages in the Yankees in 2024?

Aaron Boone. The good news for Boone is that there is a pathway to saving his job: rallying his team after getting swept by the Angels and finishing strong. It certainly helps that his MVP is indeed inching closer to a return. Judge has upped his activity to running the bases and live batting practice. The team really is that much better just from having him in the lineup.

But making the playoffs won’t be enough for Boone. This won’t be like 2021 where the team is simply happy to be playing a game in October and then loses. Expanded playoffs mean Aaron Boone needs to at least get the Yankees to the ALDS.

Not only that, they need to have a competitive series. We should also note that the Yankees don’t necessarily want to fire Boone. It might be cheaper to let him be a lame duck next year and cut him loose after 2024. And if he bounces back, then maybe he can stay.

But another lifeless postseason performance this year means only one thing. Aaron Boone may be a good manager, but New York just isn’t for him.

Luis Rojas. And if Boone is fired, Cashman could look to hire in-house. Rojas, on the younger side at 41, is currently the team’s third base coach, and went 103-119 in two years with the Mets. Not bad considering he was a last-minute hire after Carlos Beltran resigned in wake of the Astros scandal. Rojas’ father is also former Expos and Giants manager Felipe Alou.

Having the Wilpons as his owners didn’t do Rojas any favors in Queens, but he still isn’t an inspiring hire. He’d be another Cashman yes-man who may or may not do a better job than Boone. There’s upside, but the Yankees cannot afford to whiff on picking their next manager.

Don Mattingly. Who says you can’t go home again? Donnie Baseball is currently the Blue Jays’ bench coach and started his coaching career with the Yankees in 2004. He was Joe Torre’s hitting coach and later bench coach, and then followed Torre to the Dodgers in 2008. Mattingly has since managed the Dodgers and Marlins over 12 seasons, going 889-950.

He’s no spring chicken at 62, but Don Mattingly coming back to the Yankees as the new manager could prove a sneaky good move. Joe Girardi’s brusque bluntness didn’t work. Boone’s sympathetic aw-shucks nature doesn’t fit in a city fueled by competition. Mattingly, on the other hand, has that soothing Midwestern comfort that just allows him to connect with everyone. Think Joe Torre, but from Indiana.

Best of all, as the most beloved former player not named Derek Jeter, the fans would immediately embrace him.

Paul Molitor. This is something of an outside the box hire. Molitor has no ties to the Yankees and is best known for his 21-year Hall of Fame career. After retiring, he was a bench and hitting coach with the Twins and Mariners, and later managed in Minnesota. Molitor went 305-343 in four years with the Twins before being fired, but stayed with the organization.

So why the Yankees? The short answer is that Molitor’s personality seems similar enough to Boone’s that it might make for a smooth change. The difference is that as a .306 lifetime hitter with 3,319 hits, the 67-year-old might be better at rallying the team out of batting slumps.

At a minimum, he’s worth an interview. Just like Boone was back in 2018.

Buck Showalter. This one depends on lots of factors, namely if the Mets’ current hot streak fades, they miss the playoffs, and Steve Cohen fires Showalter after just two years. But if he does, Showalter would have the chance to finish his career where it started: West on the Grand Central Parkway and across the Triboro Bridge in the Bronx.

Everyone remembers Buck Showalter’s blowing a 2-0 series lead in the ALDS and his unceremonious firing in 1995. Here was a career minor leaguer who, at just 39 years old, had managed the Yankees to their first playoff berth in 14 years. We forget how panned the Torre hire was just because he immediately won…with players Showalter developed.

Showalter, meanwhile, went on to manage the Diamondbacks, Rangers, Orioles, and now Mets. He also had plenty of TV gigs scattered in between.

Let’s say the Mets do indeed fire Showalter. What if Cash and Hal approached him, hats in hand, and offered him his old job back? Plus, a full-throated apology for George’s unfairly dismissing him. Showalter knows New York, can handle the media, and is still universally respected, perhaps even beloved.

The story writes itself. Buck Showalter finishes his career where it all started, finishing the job he never got the chance to complete.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.