In 10 seasons as New York Yankees manager, Joe Girardi finished above .500 every year, made the playoffs six times, won a World Series and kept his team competitive amid a period of fairly dramatic roster turnover.
But all that, apparently, wasn’t enough.
On Thursday, the Yankees announced they were parting ways with Girardi, whose contract ended after this past season, days after his team came a win away from the World Series. “Everything this organization does is done with careful consideration, and we’ve decided to pursue alternatives for the managerial position,” general manager Brian Cashman said in a statement.
Various reports have suggested that Cashman and Girardi had begun to butt heads, that the organization didn’t think Girardi was the right person to handle a young team and that the former Manager of the Year was not subservient enough to the front office. But although it’s tough to fully judge a managerial switch without knowing what happened behind the scenes, it’s impossible not to wonder whether the Yankees can truly find an upgrade over Girardi.
Despite a few high-profile mistakes (most notably in Game 2 of the ALDS) Girardi was widely regarded as one of the better managers in baseball. He presided over imposing bullpens, he kept the team competitive with some weak rosters, he earned the respect of his players, and he prevented clubhouse drama. Evidence both empirical and anecdotal suggested he was good at his job.
Thank you, Joe. My career wouldn't have been the same without you. It was a privilege. pic.twitter.com/BbF94Hn7tI
— David Robertson (@DRob30) October 26, 2017
Of course, Girardi was not perfect. Every manager has warts, every managers commits memorable mishaps, and every manager has a portion of his team’s fanbase demanding he be fired. But for an organization to actually part with its skipper, it needs reason to believe it can upgrade. And looking at the available candidates, it’s hard to make that case here.
There is Dusty Baker, but he doesn’t fit the analytical mold the Yankees are reportedly looking for. There are various longtime coaches like Dave Martinez and Kevin Long, but we have no reason to expect they’ll be better than Girardi. And then there are the ever-enticing novices, from Raul Ibanez to Jason Giambi, who could be the next great managers but could also flame out. It’s hard to point to any candidate and feel confident he’ll take the Yankees to the World Series.
In all likelihood, the Yankees will replace a manager who was somewhere between passable and excellent with someone who has never led a major league team. That is one hell of a risk for a team whose title window is opening right now.
As for Girardi, he should have options, either now or whenever he decides he wants to manage again. The obvious fit is with the win-now Washington Nationals, but ownership in D.C. has previously been hesitant to pay big money for a manager. The Phillies also have an opening, if Girardi is willing to endure a few years of rebuilding. It’s also possible that a team (maybe Derek Jeter and the Marlins?) would depose its manager to clear room for Girardi.
One way or another, Girardi’s name figures to be floated for every job that comes available. As the Yankees search for a manager with enough bona fides to suggest he can lead a World Series team, the hottest name on the market will be the guy they just fired.