When Aaron Boone was hired as Yankees’ manager after the 2017 season, he understandably viewed the job as one of the pinnacles of the sporting world.
The Yankees, after all, are the Yankees. The team had gone all the way to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series the year before and had an exciting young nucleus, which included Aaron Judge, Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery, all of whom were 25 or younger at the time.
“I believe we’re entering a special time in New York Yankees history, and I’m so excited to be a part of it,” Boone said when he took the job.
While the Yankees have made the playoffs in each of Boone’s four seasons at the helm, his tenure thus far can not exactly be described as a “special time” in the history of the franchise. It’s a franchise that views itself as the league’s gold standard, with anything less than a championship seen as a major disappointment.
That’s why two ALDS losses (to division rivals, no less), an ALCS loss to the hated Astros and a demeaning Wild Card Game loss to the Red Sox are more motivational failures for the Yankees than they are accomplishments. Simply making the playoffs is not enough, and is certainly not the reason the Yankees hired Boone after Joe Girardi nearly piloted the 2017 group to the World Series.
This year, though, things look, feel and sound different. It’s not just that the Yankees are 26-9 entering Tuesday’s slate of games. Sure, they have the best record, run differential and wRC + in the league, and are on pace to win 120 games. But it’s the way they’re doing it, and the stark departure from last season’s talented but underachieving ways is starting to make 2022 feel like the true beginning of a special time in Yankees history.
The Yankees are happy and healthy, thus far avoiding any major injuries while starting to believe, with each win, that they are closer and closer to invincibility. The postgame victory music in the clubhouse seems like more of a routine than a reward these days, with players, coaches, and reporters alike growing far too accustomed to the musical stylings of Kodak Black and Kevin Gates following a Yankee win.
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This is probably exactly what Boone envisioned when he swapped his ESPN credentials for lineup cards and sleeveless hoodies. The Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton exactly one week after Boone’s hiring, and now, finally, he and Judge look primed for their first All-Star Game as teammates. Superstars have always been the Yankees’ calling card, and even though their current big three (Judge, Stanton and Gerrit Cole) has been around since 2020, this is the first year that the team’s record looks like one that has three of the game’s brightest stars.
Beyond that, the influence of a rejuvenated Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres have allowed the Bombers to go from good, but beatable, to downright terrifying. Rizzo already has ten home runs and could surpass his career-high of 32 if his early-season power – which is all the more impressive when considering the league-wide offensive suppression that has come with cold weather and yet another wonky baseball – continues through the coming months. LeMahieu is back to being the prototypical leadoff hitter that made him an impossible out during his first two years in pinstripes, slashing, chopping and lining hits to every part of the stadium. Torres – whether it stems from the mental ease of going back to second base, or last year being a 127-game slump for him – is striking out less frequently than ever before and trails only Judge, Stanton and Rizzo for the team lead in RBI .
A manager’s true dream, though, is getting beneficence from the top, middle, and bottom of the roster. As Stanton and Cole look like the $ 300 million men they are, and Judge is perhaps playing his way to an even larger contract, there’s also Nestor Cortes Jr. and his $ 727,500 salary. Cortes has been, full stop, one of the best pitchers alive. Not since the halcyon days of El Duque or peak Joba Chamberlain has a Yankee hurler combined cutesy fan admiration with legitimately excellent results on the mound.
Michael King has also been one of the best people in the world at his job. In fact, King is the very best reliever in the game according to FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement. He’ll bring home $ 722,500 this year, an absolute steal for a guy with a 36.5% strikeout rate that can easily go multiple innings at a time.
The Yankees have an embarrassment of riches. The starting pitchers have posted the most WAR of any American League unit, just like the relievers have. The hitters lead the entire league in wRC + and still haven’t gotten much from Joey Gallo or Aaron Hicks. With each series win, the comparisons to the 1998 team will grow louder and less hyperbolic. The thing is, Boone and his charges do not think of themselves as the 1998 team. Luis Gil, who helped the Yankees beat the White Sox on May 12, was not even born until midway through that magic carpet ride.
The people in the Yankee clubhouse always, no matter what year or what the circumstances are, believe they can win 162 games. That is especially true of Boone, one of the more proudful men in any MLB dugout. He finally has the team of his dreams, composed equally of classic Yankee firepower and savvy trade pickups for former mid-to-late round draft picks.
Any true evaluation of the 2022 squad will have to wait until October. But until then, words like “special” and “different” will be flying across the five boroughs like one of Judge and Stanton’s trademark slams.