Machado position demand could put wrinkle in Yankees’ 2019 plans

Machado position demand could put wrinkle in Yankees’ 2019 plans

TAMPA — Manny Machado arrived in Orioles’ camp on Saturday, wasting no time telling reporters that he intends to play shortstop for the rest of his career. Which prompts the question: did the Yankees’ grand plan just take a major hit?

As a free agent next winter, Machado was looming as a perfect fit for the Yankees and becoming a fixture at third base for years to come.

The timing is right, assuming Brian Cashman sticks to the plan to get under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold this season, which would allow him to spend big next winter without incurring severe tax penalties.

But if Machado is determined to play shortstop, the position he’s returning to for the Orioles this season after years of brilliance at third base, such a stance could cause the Yankees to re-think their pursuit of him.

Or would it?

As much as they love Didi Gregorius, he can be a free agent after the 2019 season, and it will take big bucks to lock him up. And he’ll turn 30 going into the 2020 season, while Machado is two years younger.

So is it possible they’d sign Machado and trade Gregorius next winter? I’m not sure that makes sense.

For one thing, with Giancarlo Stanton joining Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in the lineup, the Yankees are loaded with right-handed power. And their two young infield prospects, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, both hit right-handed as well.

All of which makes Gregorius especially valuable as a left-handed hitter with power, as evidenced by his 25 home runs last season. The need to break up the right-handed bats is the reason he wound up hitting clean-up at times last season, and while Greg Bird figures to be in that mix this season, the Yankees still will need whatever lefty power they can get from their shortstop.

There are other factors in any planning for 2019 and beyond as well, starting with the question of how good Andujar proves to be at third base. The Yankees love his bat but they aren’t sure about his defense yet.

And if Andujar doesn’t look like the answer at third, there is always the possibility the Yankees could move Torres and plug in Tyler Wade to play second.

Of course, all of this depends on whether Machado would change his mind about playing third base again for the right amount of money. Because he doesn’t turn 26 until July, he figures to be an exception to the new discipline GMs are showing regarding free agents, and command at least an eight-year contract for more than $200 million.

Not Released (NR)

Is it possible the Yankees would sign Manny Machado and trade Didi Gregorius next winter? It may not make sense.

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Then again, he might be worth even more to teams as a shortstop than a third baseman, depending how well he plays the position for the Orioles in 2018.

In talking to reporters upon his arrival Saturday, Machado sounded firm about his intention to be a shortstop again.

“I know a lot of talk has been, ‘oh is he going to be worth more there?’” Machado said. “It’s not about the money. It’s not about going out there and signing a 20-year deal. This is where my heart has always been. This is what I’ve wanted to do.”

Machado had a bit of a down year in 2017, hitting .259 with a .310 on-base percentage, but still hit 33 home runs and 33 doubles. Those numbers look more spectacular for a shortstop, especially if he plays that position as well as he does third base.

But as a major league executive told me Saturday, “His defense at third provides so much value that you can’t look at him as a typical corner infielder. I think he’ll get paid about the same whether he’s at third or at short, but if he wants to play short, obviously a lot of teams would want him. Then it’s just a matter of who can afford him.”

That’s where the Yankees could still have an edge. However, one person in the organization cautioned that after taking on Stanton’s 10-year contract, Hal Steinbrenner might not be willing to commit to another deal of that type of length, even if the team re-sets the luxury tax rate.

“I think a lot depends how the young guys play this season,” the person said.

B GRADE

So Jason Vargas is a Met, adding needed depth to the starting rotation, if not much of a wow factor.

And with Sandy Alderson’s work now presumably complete, I’ll give the GM a solid “B” for his offseason. He didn’t get any real game-changers in free agency, but Alderson unquestionably did a nice job filling multiple holes on a limited budget.

He signed Jay Bruce on a three-year deal and Vargas, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak on two-year deals, thereby avoiding long-term commitments, and he did so by adding $36.5 million (annually) to the payroll, considerably less than anyone would have thought it would take to sign those four players when last season ended.

As such Alderson’s patience in waiting out the market paid off, and when you throw in the no-risk gamble on Adrian Gonzalez, there’s a chance this offseason winds up deserving a higher grade.

But there’s also a chance the Mets will wind up regretting not making different choices, in some cases for financial reasons, in others personal preference, on the likes of Brandon Morrow, Eduardo Nunez, Lorenzo Cain, and Lance Lynn.

Let’s see what Lynn winds up signing for elsewhere, but I thought he could have been a difference-maker in the rotation, where Vargas is more of a No. 4-type starter — a finesse lefty who relies on his change-up as his out pitch.

When Vargas is throwing that change-up with precision, he’s capable of dominance, as in the first half of last season, when he pitched to a 2.22 ERA over his first 16 starts. But when he lost the feel for the change, Vargas stumbled to a 7.19 ERA in July and August before finding his form again in September.

Even at age 35 Vargas is a solid signing for two years and $16 million, at least partly because he has mostly been injury-free, other than needing Tommy John surgery in 2015.

Until proven otherwise, though, Alderson needed to find a way to sign Lynn or Alex Cobb to push his offseason grade above a “B.”

Aaron Boone

Aaron Boone

(Lynne Sladky/AP)

BOONE TRANSPARENCY

It’s early, obviously, and it’s only spring training, but so far Aaron Boone very much looks and sounds the part of Yankee manager, despite having never coached or managed at any level.

A Yankee official said of Boone: “You know how we talk about players with slow heartbeat? He’s got a slow heartbeat. He takes everything in stride. He never rushes, he always thinks things through at his own pace.”

Certainly Boone has seemed very comfortable in dealing with the media so far, unafraid to offer his thoughts about players and possible lineup scenarios, which is quite a contrast to Joe Girardi, who guarded every little bit of information like it was a state secret.

For example, though Cashman has said the Yankees are looking at Chad Green as a starter this spring training, Boone made it clear Green would have to absolutely wow the brass this spring to keep from going back to his role in the bullpen, where he was such a multi-inning weapon.

As Boone put it, “It would obviously take a lot, given what we believe he is and the valuable role he filled last year.”

Likewise, the new manager volunteered that while he’s not sure where Judge and Stanton will hit in the lineup, he made it clear that one of them would hit in the No. 2 spot.

Not that it’s a huge deal, and obviously making in-game decisions will be a more important test, but Boone’s willingness to share such thoughts so early in his tenure indicates a level of comfort that bodes well for handling whatever comes along this season.

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Dizzying to imagine Giancarlo Stanton possibilities with Yankees

Dizzying to imagine Giancarlo Stanton possibilities with Yankees

TAMPA — When Giancarlo Stanton walked into the clubhouse Friday morning, somewhat unexpectedly, the buzz was unmistakable, as even his fellow big-leaguers made a point of watching the new guy settle into his locker, surrounded by clubhouse attendants.

“He’s just one of those guys everybody is excited about seeing,” Dellin Betances said. “I mean, he’s the National League MVP and now he’s on our team. That’s pretty amazing.”

Much like Aaron Judge, his new slugging mate, if you will, Stanton’s size makes it impossible not to notice him. That and his reputation for hitting baseballs out of sight have always assured a certain sense of awe, going back to his early days in the minors.

As a minor-leaguer with the Yankees, in fact, Betances remembers going into Greensboro, N.C. in 2008, and being aware of the hype surrounding Stanton then as an 18-year-old playing his first full season in the minors.

“He was all the talk going into that series,” Betances recalled. “Then in his first at-bat, he’s facing a pitcher we had named Gabe Medina, and he hits a ball that had to go 500 feet. It was unbelievable how far it went.”

Betances paused, recalling the magnitude of the home run, and laughed.

“After that, he didn’t get pitched to the rest of the series,” he said. “I was just glad I wasn’t scheduled to pitch.”

Ten years later, Stanton is perhaps even more of an intimidating presence, after hitting 59 home runs for the Marlins last season. Especially in Yankee Stadium where, unlike his former home ballpark, what may feel like pop-ups to him are sure to wind up landing in the seats.

A such it’s rather dizzying to imagine the possibilities for Stanton in pinstripes, and the power displays that he and Judge will put on in the same lineup. Batting practice alone will be a spectacle, which is why the Yankees are expected to announce they’ll be opening the gates earlier than normal for home games this season so fans can watch the show.

Performing before huge crowds and passionate fans will be new to Stanton, to be sure, after playing in a place like Miami where apathy reigned.

But that’s not really why he made a point of showing up to camp here a couple of days early.

As he made clear at his press conference in December after the trade, he grew frustrated with the mediocrity that defined the Marlins during his eight seasons in Miami, partly due to financial limitations, and he’s thrilled all of that changes now.

“It’s huge,” he said, when asked what it means to finally get a chance to play for a potential winner. “I’ve never been able to experience that at this level. It’s something I’ve worked my whole life to get to.”

Judge says Stanton said much the same thing to him when they talked at the BBWAA dinner in New York a few weeks ago.

Giancarlo Stanton is creating a big buzz at Yankees spring training.

Giancarlo Stanton is creating a big buzz at Yankees spring training.

(Willie J. Allen Jr./AP)

“All he wants to do is win,” Judge said Friday.

Aaron Boone said he’s come away with much the same impression.

“I know where he is mentally, as far as the excitement level,” Boone said. “There’s a hunger; there’s a desire to win. He’s at a point in his career when it’s about winning.

“I think he’s welcoming the expectations and the largeness of what he’s walking into and he understands that when he first takes the field the attention is going to be huge, the scrutiny is going to be huge, and that’s something he’s prepared for as best he can.”

Ah, the New York factor. As much as Stanton says he welcomes the chance to win, it’s fair to ask if he’s ready for the glare of the media spotlight.

Even as a big star he went about his business in relative anonymity playing for the Marlins, yet people who covered him say he could be testy at times or didn’t always make himself available after games.

So we’ll see. On Friday Stanton said, “The market and all that isn’t what I’ve thought about. It’s more about getting used to a new place. That (stuff) comes with it: big expectations, a bigger market. Just being out of my comfort zone maybe…but not in a bad way.

“This is all new to me and it’s going to be a fun ride.”

If he hits home runs as he did last year, Stanton will to be nothing less than the toast of the town, much like Judge in 2017. The only question for Boone is where he’ll bat his two bombers in the lineup.

On Friday the manager said it’s tempting to make sure they both hit in the first inning, in the No. 2 and 3 spots, but he indicated it’s more likely he would hit lefty Greg Bird between them to make it tougher on opposing managers to match up with relievers in the late innings.

“I envision one of them hitting in the 2-hole,” Boone said. “That’s one thing that’s kind of a starting point for me. Whether it’s G or Aaron, we’ll see how that shakes out.”

There is plenty of time for that, yet Stanton’s arrival here Friday was a reminder the anticipation for what he’ll do in the Bronx is practically palpable already.

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CC Sabathia on how Yankees will handle the hype — and the hate

CC Sabathia on how Yankees will handle the hype — and the hate

TAMPA — Let’s start with the obvious: Justin Verlander is right.

The Yankees may have that Evil Empire feel to them again, adding Giancarlo Stanton to a lineup that led the majors in home runs, but the world-champion Astros are indeed the team to beat, with their young position-player stars and perhaps the best starting rotation in the American League.

Even CC Sabathia, who caused a stir during the off-season by saying how much he enjoys the idea of the Yankees being “that hated team again,” admits as much.

“Yeah, of course, they’re the defending champs,” Sabathia told me on Thursday. “You’ve gotta go through them. Our goal is to get to where they are. We’re probably going to have to go through them again.”

Verlander felt compelled to make the case for the Astros as a rebuttal of sorts to Chris Russo saying on MLB Network that the Yankees should be the clear favorites in 2018.

“We won the World Series last year and we got better this year,” Verlander told reporters in Astros’ camp, referring mostly to the trade for Gerrit Cole. “Obviously I think we’re the team to beat.”

That said, the Yankees are the Yankees, and that was Sabathia’s point: They were going to have high expectations in 2018 anyway, after getting to Game 7 of the ALCS against the Astros, but adding Stanton ratcheted those expectations to another level.

Of course, it’s not just adding Stanton, but the way the Yankees did it:

By giving up little in the way of prospects, because they were one of the few teams that could absorb his salary and one of four teams for which he was willing to waive his no-trade clause, the Yankees invited resentment reminiscent of the George Steinbrenner days, when the late owner tried to outspend the world every year in pursuit of championships.

MANDATORY CREDIT; TAMPA OUT; CITRUS COUNTY OUT; PORT CHARLOTTE OUT; BROOKSVILLE HERNANDO TODAY OUT

CC Sabathia explains why he said Yankees were hated once again.

(Octavio Jones/AP)

“That’s what I was talking about when I made my comment,” Sabathia said. “People got pissed when they saw we got Stanton, and then I guess what I said stirred some people up, but that’s a good thing.

“That’s what you sign up to play here for. When I signed 10 years ago, I knew what I was walking into. We won a championship in ’09, but even before I was here, being on the outside looking in, the Yankees were always the team you wanted to beat, always the team you kind of looked at as a measuring stick.

“Hopefully we can get back to that.”

Sabathia was referring to the early 2000s, of course, when he was a young pitcher with the Indians and the Joe Torre Yankees were a juggernaut, with their four championships and then World Series appearances in 2001 and 2003, even before they acquired Alex Rodriguez in a Stanton-like trade.

The difference is that this team doesn’t have that championship pedigree. Only Sabathia, Brett Gardner and David Robertson were on the 2009 team, while the nucleus is built around young players who arrived in the big leagues when the Yankees were in a rebuild, reaching the post-season last year as rare underdogs.

As such it’s fair to ask if these Yankees are ready not just for the hype but the hate in 2017. Sabathia admitted it will be an adjustment.

“Everybody knows we’ve got a good team again,” he said, “but our team is so young, I think people forget that. We’re going to take some lumps, things like that, but I think we have the kind of character guys to get through whatever we need to, to be a championship team again.

“I don’t think it’s something I need to talk to guys about, because I think it’s understood. I honestly think that when you play for the Yankees, that’s always the mentality: it’s the New York Yankees, and teams want to come in and play good at Yankee Stadium, and we need to defend that.

Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“But it’s still something we’ve never been through as a team — this young team. It’s going to be different.”

It will be new to Aaron Boone as well, at least in the role of manager. Boone was a Yankee for a few months in 2003, of course, hitting his famous home run to win the ALCS against the Red Sox, but you have to wonder, as a rookie manager, how he’ll deal with huge expectations.

That’s where Torre was at his best, deflecting hype with his calm demeanor, keeping things in perspective for players.

Boone seems to have a Torre-like presence, but players will be watching carefully to see if he keeps his cool when they run into a significant losing streak and the back page headlines are screaming crisis.

“I don’t think he’ll have a problem,” Sabathia said of Boone. “He’s been through it as a player. I think that’s all the experience you need.”

However it unfolds, Sabathia said he understands the Astros may have a chip on their shoulder, as the Stanton-Aaron Judge show makes the Yankees the must-see attraction in baseball, but he’s convinced all the outside resentment will give his team an edge as well.

In other words, he can’t wait.

“You mean bring on the hate?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Sabathia said with a smile. “I love it.”

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Judge can redefine what he's capable of with repaired shoulder

Judge can redefine what he's capable of with repaired shoulder

TAMPA — In case you think Aaron Judge can’t get better, it’s worth noting that he hit only three of his 52 home runs last season in August, when he was nursing a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery and almost surely was a factor in his massive mid-summer slump.

On Wednesday Judge still said no, even while indicating he may have been only 80 percent healthy at best because of the shoulder.

“I don’t like making excuses,” he said.

But more than likely that’s just Judge wanting to be accountable, wanting to take responsibility for the bad as well as the good last season.

Aaron Judge on recovery from shoulder surgery, Giancarlo Stanton

Certainly Brian Cashman saw it that way.

“He would never say it,” Cashman told me on Wednesday. “He’s never said it privately either. But I definitely believe the shoulder affected his performance for a period of time.”

Aaron Judge revealed Wednesday that his shoulder began to bother him around the All-Star break of last season.

Aaron Judge revealed Wednesday that his shoulder began to bother him around the All-Star break of last season.

(Lynne Sladky/AP)

If that’s true, who knows what Judge is capable of in his second full season, especially with Giancarlo Stanton joining him now in a Yankees’ modern-day Murderers’ Row that is going to make it more and more difficult for anyone to pitch around either of the league’s home run kings.

Imagine Judge and Stanton both chasing 60 home runs come September, the way Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle did in 1961, when Maris famously broke Babe Ruth’s record of 60 and Mantle wound up with 54, in part due to a leg injury that hindered him late in the season.

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Clearly it’s possible, considering that Stanton hit 59 last season and now we know Judge’s swing was compromised for several weeks.

So if he’s healthy…

Judge wasn’t about to speculate, but he made it clear he believes he can get better. Perhaps more significantly, he was quick to say he’s determined to find out how much better.

“I try not to listen to people when they try to put a label on somebody as that was their best season, their worst season,” he said. “For me I don’t know, and that’s what motivated me is how good can you be.

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“How great can somebody be? That’s what motivates me to get here early and improve.”

With Judge you know that’s more than talk, based on everything we’ve learned about the way he handled his stunning success last season, with a humble nature that made him popular among his more senior teammates, and a work ethic that prompted Joe Girardi to call him a born leader.

JAN. 28, 2018 PHOTO

Judge and Giancarlo Stanton can form a modern Murderers’ Row for the Yankees.

(Kathy Willens/AP)

His new manager, Aaron Boone, watched from afar last season as an ESPN analyst, and when asked to explain what he thought of Judge’s rise, he began with a word associated rather famously in Nike ads with Derek Jeter.

“Respect,” Boone said. “He came up in 2016 and struggled, and so I saw a young player with the courage and willingness to make adjustments in his approach and his swing. That’s not easy for young players to do, but he’s a guy that’s driven.

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“As nice a person as he is, he’s driven to be great. I don’t think he’ll ever be satisfied.”

With that in mind, Boone said he predicted throughout Judge’s slump last season that he thought the young slugger would come out of it and finish strong, which proved true, of course.

In fact, Judge hit 15 home runs in September, at least partly because his shoulder was feeling better by then, he acknowledged on Wednesday.

Injury aside, Boone said he was convinced Judge’s slump was at least partly the natural course of a season for any slugger, especially a young one.

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“People talking about chasing pitches, but that’s just the result of timing (being off),” Boone said. “When Aaron is on time, he’s deadly. When he controls the strike zone (swinging at pitches he can handle), he’s as deadly as anyone in the game.”

The same can be said for Stanton, obviously, and Judge said the two sluggers have already talked about benefiting from being able to compare notes, as only a couple of 6-foot-7 home-run hitters can.

Judge.

Judge.

“It’s funny, Stanton brought that up when we were in New York (for the BBWAA dinner in January),” Judge said. “He said, ‘Hey, I’m excited to get in the cages with you and pick each other’s brains.’

“I feel like I’ve got a lot to learn from him about mechanics, his approach. It’s going to be nice to have another big guy in the clubhouse like that.”

Aaron Boone is already bringing a Joe Torre-like touch to Yankees

Judge sure doesn’t seem to be the type to worry about sharing the spotlight. Two months later, in fact, he was still practically gushing, recalling Cashman phoning him to ask if he’d be ok occasionally DHing or playing left field — because the GM had a chance to get Stanton.

“I told him, ‘whatever the team needs me to do,’ ” Judge said. “An MVP caliber player on our team? Let’s do it. We’re here to win it.

“Being around Stanton so far, he’s ready for New York. He’s going to fit right in here, I can already tell. Just by his demeanor, and he’s here to win — that’s all I really hear him talking about. It’s going to be a fun thing we’ve got here.”

Spoken like a man whose repaired shoulder is about ready to start launching missiles again.

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Aaron Boone is already bringing a Joe Torre-like touch to Yankees

Aaron Boone is already bringing a Joe Torre-like touch to Yankees

TAMPA — Not that there was much doubt, but on his first day in a Yankee uniform, Aaron Boone left the distinct impression that he will be much more like Joe Torre than Joe Girardi.

In fact, to hear the new manager talk, you couldn’t help but think that 10 years later, with hard feelings between the two long since washed away, GM Brian Cashman wanted a latter-day Torre.

A younger, more analytics-friendly version, to be sure, but Boone clearly wants to create a Torre-like environment in his first year on the job, as he emphasized the importance of having a clubhouse where “guys are at ease,” one where “it’s not a stressful place.”

Torre’s great strength, remember, was his human touch that helped create a bond within the clubhouse, which may or may not have provided intangibles vital to winning four championships in five seasons, from 1996-2000.

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Meanwhile, when Girardi was fired last fall, Cashman indicated it was largely because the manager’s day-to-day intensity created tension that wore players out and made the young ones, in particular, uncomfortable.

Obviously Girardi’s style didn’t inhibit a young team in 2017 from making a surprise run to Game 7 of the ALCS, but Cashman’s feeling seemed to be that with higher expectations, such clubhouse tension would continue to build and eventually take a toll.

Aaron Boone is quickly starting to take after one of his Yankee predecessors.

Aaron Boone is quickly starting to take after one of his Yankee predecessors.

(Lynne Sladky/AP)

So here was Boone on Tuesday, using catchwords and key phrases about making the game fun for the players that had an anti-Girardi feel to them. More than that, however, he sounded like he wanted to take what he learned from his own experience playing under Torre and apply it.

In particular, Boone recalled fondly how comfortable Torre made him feel when he joined the Yankees during the 2003 season after being traded from the Reds.

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“Just his presence, his kind of soothing nature,” Boone said, remembering walking into Torre’s office that first day. “His ability to put me at ease in what’s a whirlwind experience when you get traded, especially coming to a place like New York.

“So hopefully I take a little piece of what I thought he was great at into this job. I just think there’s a way communicating, a presence. Not necessarily the words you say but maybe the presence that he had.”

Torre’s presence served a dual purpose during his era: creating a comfort level among his players while also serving to shield them from George Steinbrenner’s famously harsh public criticism.

These days the manager has no such concerns with the more temperate Hal Steinbrenner in the owner’s box, yet teams are also more protective of players than ever in what seems at least partly to be a response to the social media culture.

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In any case, Boone was hired primarily because he is such a natural at communicating, not because he’s a genius at knowing when to put on the hit-and-run.

Or maybe he does have a Billy Martin-like knack for pulling off a squeeze bunt, but how would anybody know since he’s never managed or even coached?

Boone is quickly stepping into the shoes of Joe Torre (left) and Joe Girardi.

Boone is quickly stepping into the shoes of Joe Torre (left) and Joe Girardi.

(Julie Jacobson/AP)

Times have changed in baseball, obviously, so we’ll have to wait to see how Boone handles in-game strategy decisions, or the second-guessing that comes with it in New York.

For now, well, the new manager appears to be as advertised, very much at ease in press conference-settings, showing a sense of humor that should serve him well and an understanding of what comes with this job.

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When asked about the “circus” aspect of having Giancarlo Stanton joining a team that is now expected to win a championship, for example, Boone didn’t flinch.

“It beats the alternative, it really does,” he said. “At the end of the day you want all the buzz that’s certainly apparent when I’m back in New York, and all the excitement that’s being generated by where we are as a franchise.

“One of my messages to the team will be to embrace that expectation. Expect to go out there and be great. With that comes this kind of attention. We’re not going to run from that. We’re going to embrace that we’re going to expect to be great.”

Referencing Torre again, Boone said the tone of such a message may be more important than the words themselves, and it’s clearly something that he wants to replicate at least in some ways.

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So while Boone talked a lot about preparation, with the implied understanding that analytics would dictate much of his decision-making, what stood out in his first day on the job was his emphasis on creating relationships with his players that would build trust and also allow him to, as he put it, “challenge players” to do things the right way.

Likewise, he wants his players to make a point of having fun playing the game, while understanding the need to practice and play “with an intensity and an expectation of greatness.”

It all sounds great in theory, and certainly Boone seems very capable of having a Torre-like touch with players. Yet the truth is there’s just no way to know yet if he can manage as well as either Joe Torre or Girardi.

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