TAMPA — The parting of ways with Joe Girardi was not quite as bloodless as the Yankees probably had wanted it to be, even though his relationship with Brian Cashman had become extremely strained these last couple of years.
If Girardi mostly looked miserable this season in spite of his Baby Bombers overachieving and coming of age a year ahead of schedule, it was probably because he was. He was tired of the constant criticism from above, tired of the unending second-guessing he and his pitching coach Larry Rothschild got from the analytics department and tired of the daily grind of dealing with the massive media force and talk radio yahoos that come with the territory of managing in New York. (I often wondered how many times Girardi privately yearned to be back in Miami, his first managerial gig, where the media corps mostly consisted of three beat writers.)
But then came the stunning upset of the Indians in the ALDS and the inspiring three middle games of the ALCS against Houston and suddenly Girardi felt a renewal of spirit and, despite all the negatives, didn’t want to walk away from what looks to be a very bright future few years for the Yankees. What he didn’t know was that Cashman had grown weary of Girardi as well — weary of the resistance, weary of the fights, and had long decided the intense Girardi wasn’t the man he wanted to guide that future.
So who is that man? Needless to say, this is going to be the most important hire of Cashman’s career. He has so carefully built this team around all these blossoming young players and, above all, he is going to need a manager with the direct opposite of Girardi’s uptight demeanor, with good communication skills who can continue the nurturing process. In other words, hard-ass old school guys need not apply.
Cashman has made it clear he wants a manager he can be comfortable with, which means someone with whom he’s had some sort of relationship, who will embrace analytics and not resist them. I am also told that previous managerial experience is not necessarily a required criteria. If you’re looking for candidates who meet that description, you need to start with the Yankee player development department, where there are a half-dozen people whom Cashman holds in high regard and is worried he might lose to Gary Denbo, the man who hired most of them and who is now the VP of Player Development for Miami.
In particular, sources have told me, catching coordinator Josh Paul and Class A Tampa manager Jay Bell are both high on Cashman’s candidates list. Paul, a Vanderbilt grad who caught eight-plus years in the big leagues and managed the Yankees’ Rookie League Staten Island team in 2009-2010, is well-liked by everyone in the organization and, if nothing else, is seemingly the right guy to guide Gary Sanchez’s career. Bell, the former All-Star shortstop with the Pirates, is extremely personable and was the Reds bench coach for two seasons.
Conceivably, Paul, Bell and the equally highly regarded baserunning/outfield instructor Reggie Willits, and Triple A pitching coach Tommy Phelps could all wind up on the major league coaching staff as a way of keeping them from being poached by Denbo.
Joe Girardi’s Yankees career through the years
However, it’s not expected that any current members of the Yankee coaching staff will get the top job.
Closer to home, there’s Tim Naehring, Cashman’s VP of Baseball Operations, who is also universally liked and respected throughout the organization and popular with the media. However, after working his entire post-playing career in the front office, the last 11 years with the Yankees, it is questionable if Naehring would want to go down on the field and endure the daily grind of managing.
Outside the organization, there’s been a lot of speculation about former Yankee batting coach Kevin Long, who has let it be known he would like to manage. When it comes to any potential reunion with the Yankees, however, it is important to remember Long left under rather acrimonious circumstances when he was fired by Cashman for shooting his mouth off too much. Another name that has surfaced is Raul Ibanez, the former Yankee outfielder who is presently a special assistant to Dodgers’ President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. Ibanez was a natural leader on every team he played for and immensely popular with the media. But he’s never managed or coached anywhere, which could make him a risky pick by Cashman (if he’s even on the list). That said, he’d get my vote.
Meanwhile, what’s to become of Girardi, who until Thursday morning, was the only current manager to boast winning records for his team in each of the last 10 seasons? He’s in good company this crazy fall with Dusty Baker and John Farrell, each fired despite winning back-to-back division titles.
As Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said: “Finishing first and making the postseason is not enough anymore. We have to get to the World Series.” Good luck to the next manager there, but at least in Girardi’s case, they’d be hiring a manager who’s not only been there but won one.