When the Yankees filmed an advertisement for a web development company this summer, it humorously played off Manager Joe Girardi’s image as a square, fatherly figure puzzled by the priorities of his younger players.
As it turned out, art was not imitating life — it was forecasting it.
Girardi’s inability to communicate well with an increasingly young clubhouse was the primary factor that led to his dismissal, General Manager Brian Cashman said Monday.
Cashman, speaking for the first time since Girardi’s departure from the team nearly two weeks ago, praised him in a nearly hourlong conference call with reporters. He described Girardi, whose contract expired after this season, as an exceptional manager with a tireless work ethic who served the Yankees well on and off the field during his decade in charge.
But with the Yankees having successfully transitioned over the last year and a half from a team laden with veterans to one with an abundance of emerging stars — right fielder Aaron Judge, catcher Gary Sanchez, first baseman Greg Bird, shortstop Didi Gregorius and pitcher Luis Severino — Cashman said it was time for a new voice.
The main area of concern was “the ability to fully engage, communicate and connect with the playing personnel,” Cashman said. “And in saying that, there might be a tough hurdle for someone that’s been in that particular position as a manager for 10 years.”
Cashman would not address any specific instances of poor communication, but some examples were evident this year. Girardi — a former catcher — was so frustrated by Sanchez’s inattentiveness on defense that he briefly benched him and publicly criticized him in August.
And during the playoffs, closer Aroldis Chapman liked an Instagram post that urged the Yankees not to bring back Girardi, though he later said it was an accident.
In an interview on the WFAN radio station that ran concurrently with Cashman’s conference call, Girardi disputed the idea that there were any communication problems and described his relationship with Sanchez as supportive.
“I think Brian was looking for something different, and evidently I didn’t fit the mold,” said Girardi, who nonetheless did not give an alternative reason for his dismissal.
Cashman, who dismissed reports that hinted at increasing friction between him and Girardi this season or that Girardi did not work well with the analytics staff, also said that Girardi’s managerial gaffe in the postseason — neglecting to call for a replay challenge that may have prevented a loss to the Cleveland Indians in Game 2 of an American League division series — had nothing to do with his ouster.
Asked if Girardi would have been back had the Yankees reached the World Series instead of losing in a seven-game American League Championship Series to the Houston Astros, Cashman said: “It’s tough to put a hypothetical in there. We went where we went.”
After the Yankees lost Game 7 on Oct. 21, they returned home the next day. Cashman gave his recommendation to Hal Steinbrenner, the team’s principal owner, the next day, and Girardi was informed the following day, a Tuesday. The decision was announced two days later, on Thursday morning — an off day during the World Series.
Though Cashman, whose contract has expired as well, said he had not yet reached an agreement on a new deal with Steinbrenner, he made clear that he would like to return. He said there were other priorities: the move of Kevin Reese from pro scouting director to director of player development, scouting meetings that wrapped up Friday, next week’s general manager meetings and the hiring of a new manager.
That last task is certain to garner a great deal of attention. Of the six teams that parted ways with their managers at the end of this season, only the Yankees have yet to name a replacement, and Cashman indicated that the search was just getting underway.
He is winnowing a list of prospective candidates to bring in for interviews. He declined to say how many people would be interviewed but said that a previous relationship with the Yankees or managerial experience was not a prerequisite.
“There’s no perfect person that checks every box,” Cashman said. “I don’t care whether they’re Hall of Famer categories.”
Asked if Alex Rodriguez, who served this season as an adviser to Steinbrenner while being paid $21 million for the final year of his contract, was a candidate, Cashman said, “I definitely do not want to go through who may or may not be a candidate.”
But he promised a transparent process, one in which — as with the club’s last managerial opening, which occurred after Joe Torre was pushed out 10 years ago — each candidate will meet with the local news media after being interviewed.
While Girardi — acutely prepared but with a stilted personality — seemed the antithesis of the avuncular Torre, Cashman said it would be a mistake to think the Yankees would be turning toward somebody who was solely a master communicator.
The best candidate will also have to also be well versed in analytics, understand the role of sports science and be willing to challenge conventional thinking.
“It’s an easy narrative to run to the opposite of what you already had,” Cashman said. “If somebody was too, for instance, structured and demanding, then you want to go from an old-school, heavy-handed personality to a new-school players’ manager — that’s not a narrative I’m falling into. We’re looking for the best person possible.”
The Yankees did not make a qualifying offer, worth $17.4 million, to three players eligible for it: pitchers C. C. Sabathia and Michael Pineda and designated hitter Matt Holliday. Third baseman Todd Frazier and pitcher Jaime Garcia were not eligible for qualifying offers because they were acquired during the season. All the players are now free agents. … Outfielder Jake Cave and pitcher Nick Rumbelow were added to the 40-man roster.