Yankees Joe Girardi: The Team’s Master Juggler Takes Stage

Yankees manager Joe Girardi faces a challenge in 2017 unlike any he has seen during his tenure with the team. No longer composed almost exclusively of wily old veterans who manage themselves, the team now has a blend of both young and older talent. How he balances and juggles the two together will largely determine the overall success of the team as the season plays out.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi undoubtedly sees the opportunity presented to him as he enters what could be his final season as field manager of the team when his contract expires at the end of the season. Because if indeed his contract is not extended, and Brian Cashman is known for not engaging personnel with contract talks during a season, then Girardi’s legacy with the Yankees organization could be determined by the age-old axiom – what have you done for me lately?

Will he be remembered as the bridge that enabled the past to meet the present, with ease and solidarity? Or will this season descend into chaos with veterans crying about reduced playing time, with the younger guys saying the same because they’re not being given a chance to prove their value to the team?

And what about us – the fans. Will we be calling for Girard’s head as the scapegoat when the team hits a skid, and Gary Sanchez meets the first slump of his career, and the team falls behind the Red Sox and Orioles for the first time in June?

And how long will it be before it becomes apparent that what we believe now about the weak Yankees starting rotation plays itself out on the field? WithLuis Severino still throwing 100 or more pitches in 4.1 innings, causing Girardi to tax the bullpen for the second day in a row following Michael Pineda‘s duplicate start the previous day.

Joe Girardi will be juggling all of it. And once Brian Cashman determines the 25 players who will move north with the team, it will be Girardi’s job to manipulate those components, and most of all, egos, in a way that ensures that everyone is on the same page and that the clubhouse is united with a winning spirit.

It’s sort of like the situation parents face every weekend with their kids. What happens when one wants to go to the beach, another wants to go to the movies, and the third one just wants to sit at home playing video games. Parents become mediators remembering (back to baseball now) that you played yesterday, but he’s going to play today – and he might even play again tomorrow if we face another left-hander.

For that dynamic to work, and it can, there has to be constant and direct communication between the manager and all relevant parties. A manager can’t simply post a lineup and leave it at that. He has to explain his thinking to his players so that they see the logic of his thinking, as well as the big picture in how a particular decision is geared to the success of the team. Because the old days of a manager being the Field General (military) leader of a team,  are long gone.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column questioning whether or not Joe Girardi is the right man for this job, and at the time, I pretty much answered my question with a solid, no. And that was based mainly on Andrew Miller following his trade to the Cleveland Indians. The New York Post quoted him saying:

“I know when Chapman came back to us for the Yankees this year, Dellin and I were kind of up in the air about what order we would pitch,’’ Miller said. “And in some instances it created a mess because we were both warming up next to each other. I think all managers, Joe, Tito [Terry Francona], I’ve been lucky to have some that really handle the bullpen well. But you hate to have two guys warming up at the same time. It seems wasteful in a sense.’’

This report indicated an inability or unwillingness to communicate directly with his players. In retrospect, though, that was then, and this is now. And since so much is riding on Girardi’s leadership, it only makes sense to so that he can communicate effectively, until he proves that he can’t. After all, not every manager can be Joe Maddon or Terry Francona, both of who reap praise from their players for the manner in which they relate to a player’s needs, without genuflecting before them.

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As much as it is for the Yankees, this is a transition year for Joe Girardi as well. The aloofness and stoicism that he portrays must disappear, or at least be modified to meet the needs of these younger guys who will need mentoring and direction.  Discipline skills need to be taught in a way in which they are not just told, “This is the way we do things around here, so get with the program or get out.” It’s a juggling act, and it’s also the biggest challenge facing Joe Girardi in the coming.

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