Looking to identify the most important issue when Yankees camp opens Tuesday in Tampa, when pitchers and catchers arrive, there are plenty of pews to visit.
However, one looms above all others: Aaron Boone taking over for Joe Girardi and inheriting a team that is expected, by some but not all, to be better than the 2017 version that finished nine innings short of reaching the World Series.
How will Giancarlo Stanton’s adapt to New York? What will the rotation look like on Opening Day? Will the Yankees really open the season with neophytes Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres at third and second base? How much of Aaron Judge and Stanton will we see in left field? Can Gary Sanchez show improvement behind the plate with new catching instructors Josh Bard and Jason Brown handling him? Can Greg Bird avoid injury after losing a big chunk of the 2017 season because of a foot injury suffered in the final week of last year’s exhibition schedule? Is it possible for Jacoby Ellsbury to turn Aaron Hicks into a fourth outfielder?
Yet, Boone’s situation stands alone because he has never managed or been a coach at any level. Yet, Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman felt it necessary to oust Girardi, who won 910 games in 10 years and a World Series title in 2009, to insert Boone, who will be 45 on March 9.
Will his communication skills and a strong relationship with the analytical side of the deal help Boone meet the expectations that have skyrocketed since he was hired — because of the addition of Stanton, the NL’s MVP last season?
“We have put a lot of preparation in for spring training,’’ Boone said this week via phone from his Arizona home. “There has been a ton of planning about what spring training will look like. We are good and plan to hit the ground running. We are ready to roll.’’
Like Girardi, Boone said spring training results are important but not the only factor that in the equation.
“Every situation is different. For some, results are what you look at but what you see also matters,’’ said Boone — who, barring a trade, needs to find a third baseman and second baseman, and explained Hicks and Ellsbury will compete for the starting center field job.
Boone also said at some point Stanton or Judge, each right fielders, will surface in left field during spring training but didn’t offer a timetable.
Though some devalue who runs the camp, this will be the first time since 1998 highly respected Rob Thomson won’t do it. Passed over for the manager’s job, Thomson wanted to return in another capacity but eventually left to become the Phillies’ bench coach. Boone said third base coach Phil Nevin and infield coach Carlos Mendoza will put the schedule together.
As for center field, Boone said what Hicks did last year can’t be discounted, but nor can what Ellsbury, who is owed $68.3 million across the next three seasons, did before suffering a concussion and how he played when Hicks went down with oblique problems. And Cashman conferred.
“It’s Aaron Hicks’ job to lose, but going in there is no question about Jacoby Ellsbury’s right to take it back,’’ Cashman said.
This is Cashman’s 21st camp as the GM, and though there are new faces in big spots, the mantra is the same.
“There are different people and different players, and we have improved concepts. We are trying to getting better, that’s what you shoot for,’’ Cashman said. “As for spring training, it’s the same.
“You go in with a team and a lot of high hopes. From Day 1, you go with the San Antonio Spurs saying, ‘Pound the rock every day.’ ”
And, for the first time since 2008, a new leader whose every move will be dissected.
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