From the outside, former New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi was seen as being hard on catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez’s defense was always a topic of conversation — for good reason, his 16 passed balls were the most of any catcher in the American League last season — and Girardi would give him dugout lectures and even sat him after a particularly messy game in August.
But apparently that was just the way it looked from the outside. John Harper of the New York Daily News has Yankees sources that tell a different story.
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.
According to Harper, Sanchez had been doing catching drills during practice in the early part of the season, as he had been doing when he was in the minors in 2016. But Sanchez apparently got sick of doing the drills and told Girardi, who told Sanchez he could stop doing them.
That seems like a weird decision to make, especially with Sanchez’s defense being a big issue throughout the season — and the absence of those practice drills probably didn’t help things. Sanchez’s further mistakes led to public criticisms from Girardi, who apparently felt that Sanchez’s issues could be solved if the catcher just “put more effort into the job.” Of course, practice drills are also “effort,” and Girardi was fine with Sanchez skipping those.
Let’s boil it all down to the basics: Girardi was hard on Sanchez in public, but in private allowed him to stop practice drills, which didn’t improve his defense, which made Yankees brass unhappy and would trigger more criticism from Girardi, which allowed the problem to proliferate.
In his article, Harper mentions that the hiring of Aaron Boone as Girardi’s replacement is meant to move away from Girardi’s style of managing, which was more about strategy and less about building relationships — at least, the kind of relationships the Yankees want their players to have with the manager.
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.
This definitely casts the rather puzzling hiring of Aaron Boone in a slightly warmer light, but it’s still a big gamble. Like the Philadelphia Phillies and their hiring of Gabe Kapler, Mr. Intensity himself, the Yankees are putting a lot of weight on personality in the hope that it will be the difference maker with a young, talented team. And in both cases, it could definitely work. But it could also be a massive, flaming failure.
Regardless of managerial success of failure, something tells me that Sanchez will be back doing drills again throughout the 2018 season, whether he likes it or not.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
– – – – – –