With the 2013 season barely underway, it may feel too early to talk about next year. But not if you’re a Yankees fan. The Yankee front office has been laser-focused on 2014 for some time, in terms of payroll, taxes, and contracts, to the degree that fielding a team this year seemed to be something of an afterthought.
One thing that hasn’t gotten much ink though, is that manager Joe Girardi’s contract is up after this year.
Most in the baseball world assume that he and the club will easily come to an agreement about an extension in the off-season.
After all, he’s continued the Yankees’ success with a Championship in ’09 and post-season berths in each of the following three years. And yet, it may not be a done deal. The prime factor will be how the Yankees fare this year. Most expect this year’s team—hobbled by age, injuries, and a blighted farm system—to barely tread water. If, despite that, Girardi leads them to another post season he’ll go a long way toward burnishing his hero credentials. But assuming he doesn’t, a change in the offing is possible. Girardi is not untouchable; he’s yet to achieve the sort ardor among fans that Joe Torre or others have had. If the front office wants to go with someone new, they won’t face stiff opposition from boosters.
It’s also possible that Girardi may not want to stay on. It might seem incredible, but let’s face it: this Yankee front office hasn’t demonstrated the fanatical passion for winning that George Steinbrenner always did. Girardi may not want to hang around a franchise more concerned with the bottom line than nurturing a farm system and fielding a winning team. And that brings us to Chicago. Girardi has a long and deep connection to the Cubs—a team undergoing a great restructuring and poised to compete again, with a current manager that most regard as only a temporary figure. And Girardi has always preferred National League type baseball.
All that is to say, it’s at least possible the Yankees could be in the market for a new manager next season. If they were, who would be the best candidate?
Don Mattingly, once thought the heir apparent, left the organization on less than stellar terms, and is now well ensconced with the Dodgers—a team that is about to become the largest payroll in MLB. Dave Miley has done well leading Scranton Wilkes-Barre, but it’s doubtful Yankee brass would look to the minors for a new manager. That’s not how they operate. There’s Girardi’s #2, Tony Pena, but he interviewed for the job in ’08 and the Yankees passed. So who then?
I humbly offer my out-of-the-box suggestion. A man with zero previous experience as a manager or coach (a trend that may be catching hold with the success of guys like Robin and Ventura and Mike Matheny) but with deep ties to the city and the franchise.
David Cone. Here’s why:
He Knows Sabermetrics
If you’ve had the pleasure of watching a game on YES with David Cone in the booth, you know he’s pretty deep into sabermetrics. In this day and age, that’s pretty much table stakes for a successful manager. The great thing about Cone though, is that he’s not a slave to stats. He played his career in the era before stat-obsession and while he understands where that knowledge could have helped him, he also knows where it could have taken him down a rat hole. He understands that balance is the key. One of the downsides to the rise of modern stats is the rise of over-managing. While Cone appreciates WAR and PITCHf/x, he also realizes that changing your batting order every day can be counterproductive to your hitters’ success.
He Knows Pitching
Strong pitching has always been the key to winning championships and it’s never been more true than today, as we find ourselves flush in the middle of a new “pitchers era”. Over the course of Cone’s Hall of Fame worthy career, he was both a “thrower” and a “pitcher”. So, he knows how to succeed as both a dominant power hurler and as a crafty pitcher relying on a number of tools. This would make him a great pitching coach but also a tremendous manager. The guy knows the science of pitching, in and out. His eye for drafting and developing pitchers, assembling and managing a staff would be priceless.
He Knows How to Win
As a part of five championship teams (with the Blue Jays and the Yankees) he knows the mindset all winning teams share. He knows what it takes to get disparate personalities working together toward the same goal.
He Knows the Media
Having played the bulk of his career in New York, he knows how to navigate the tabloid grinder. He’ll never get bogged down in distractions by saying more than he needs to. And he’d probably do a good job of keeping the players on message as well.
He’s Not Touchy-Feely
While he’s one of the smartest players of his generation, he’s still more comfortable riding motorcycles with David Wells than doing trust falls with Joe Girardi. He’s one of the guys. Players will respect him from the get-go, not only for his days as a successful player, but also for his strong personality. He may be a stat head, but that doesn’t mean he won’t take you to the woodshed. Joe Torre and Joe Girardi had success with a “New Age-y”, laid back, no-drama clubhouse. That was the sort of stability the Yankees needed back in the 90s. But a team also needs some fire in the belly, and if—for whatever reason—that fire isn’t getting lit amongst the players, it has to come from the manager. Otherwise you end up with the very professional, but moribund Yankee teams we’ve seen of late.
If the Yankees fail to make the post-season this year, it could be time for a new leader. Someone with a modern baseball mind but an appreciation of the practical things players need to succeed. Somebody that can spark a team on and off the field and keep the whole clubhouse’s eyes on the prize. David Cone is somebody the players, fans, writers, and front office could all come together behind. I think the “Cone years” could be exciting ones.