New York Yankees

Inside Baseball | Could Joe Girardi just walk away?

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 08: New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi #28 looks on from the dugout during the MLB game between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers on September 8, 2017 at Globe Life Park in Arlington, TX. (Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)

Long before Joe Girardi‘s excellent choices helped bring the New York Yankees back to upset the Indians and send them to the ALCS against Houston (and made folks forget that Game 2 brain cramp!), some people connected to the Yankees noticed changes in Girardi that made them question whether he wanted to return to managing the team for an 11th season next year.

Girardi, who beyond that rough Game 2 has managed extremely well in these playoffs, including the choice of CC Sabathia over Sonny Gray for Game 5 in the ALDS vs. Cleveland, has never expressed reservations about the job either publicly or privately. And guys rarely walk away from high-paying, high-profile jobs like these (Girardi is making $4 million a year), especially after surprising success.

However, some people inside the organization say they believe the intense Girardi doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself as much and seems “more uptight” (how you can tell, I’m not sure, but in the good days Girardi was said to be looser among friends and close confidants).

Others are wondering about it, too.

“The Yankees look like they’re going to be quite good in coming years, and he’s done a good job. It’s just a matter of whether he’s used up a lot of energy,” one rival exec said.

“At times, I’ve gotten the feeling he’s had enough,” said another, somewhat more pointedly.

Of course, he’s not the first manager to look less than thrilled even as his team is playing superbly, or even wildly beating expectations.

While some people have noticed the mood change, it would be interesting to see whether his mood brightens after the ALDS rally, where he gave the Yankees a chance and they wound up winning three straight games from a team that had won 35 of its last 39 regular season games.

These jobs aren’t easy, especially in big markets, and they are getting harder with players having more people in their ear, and social media exploding. Girardi’s contract is up this year, and Yankees higher-ups have given no reason to think Girardi won’t be back if he wants – after all, they outperformed in the regular season and are doing it again in the playoffs.

The real question is: Does he want to be back?

Folks also wonder if the Girardi family’s recent move to Florida is some sort of sign. (Of course, he may just prefer more humidity and less traffic.) For the record, Girardi suggested in a talk with beat writers this week that he is interested in returning but also gave the caveat that he would see what his family says first (he is by all accounts a terrific family man, so that isn’t just talk). His agent Steve Mandell was seen around the team for the game after the faux pas, though sources say there have been no contract negotiations with the Yankees; he could not be reached, as his voicemail was full (outside offers perhaps?).

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi speaks during a news conference before the team's American League wild-card baseball playoff game against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Perhaps Girardi’s just negotiating (or doesn’t want to assume anything), but it’s becoming more apparent why some are wondering whether he might consider a year away, or maybe back in the broadcast booth. While people don’t often leave these jobs voluntarily, his predecessor, Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre — with four rings but none in his last seven years in the Bronx — was an exception a decade ago. When Torre didn’t like the one-year offer with a lower salary (though still the highest one in MLB) and increased incentive package, plus also likely the vibe he was getting based on that offer, he resigned.

Even for the great ones, “There’s a shelf life to these manager jobs,” one rival exec points out.

Yankees’ higher-ups haven’t said much on the issue, and like Girardi, GM Brian Cashman’s contract is up, so it may not be apt to. Cashman hired Girardi and has been a supporter through the years. But Yankees people, when asked about Girardi’s standing, will point out that “Hal loves him,” referring to general partner Hal Steinbrenner. No one’s saying anything else, but they may just be negotiating, too.

Some people outside the organization have suggested they see general improvement in Girardi’s tactical skills, but his mistake by the lake in Cleveland put a dent in a guy who seems robot-like at times before he rebounded with a wonderful three games that helped the Yankees overtake the favored Indians.

After originally claiming in the news conference afterward that he didn’t challenge the called hit by pitch on Lonnie Chisenhall because he didn’t want to break Chad Green’s rhythm, either Girardi realized how ridiculous that sounded or more likely was told by his someone close to him (the rumor is, someone in the traveling party let him know). Girardi corrected himself to say he “messed up” the next day.

The fans didn’t necessarily forgive him right away, booing him upon his introduction at Yankee Stadium for Game 3. But here’s a bit of a surprise: Unlike with John Farrell up in Boston, the players, while sometimes wondering about his strategy, actually seem to like Girardi. Yankees people love Girardi’s dedication and preparation. And though word is some believe he has a tendency to “tighten up” at times, his baseball acumen is respected universally.

No one has suggested the Yankees would fire Girardi, who’s been a very consistent voice and successful manager (though he’s only had to change his uniform number once, as he does when they win it all, he’s continued their string of winning seasons, with no end in sight). But if looks tell the story, this seems to be one of those times where the enthusiasm can look like it’s at a low ebb.

One more thing working in Girardi’s favor if he wants to return is the list of potential replacements. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious one, though if they could pry away Don Mattingly from his Marlins contract and old friend Derek Jeter, that would be one that makes sense and could bring more humanity and humor to the chair.

But if you believe the word on the street, some inside the organization have already seen a change in Girardi, either since sometime in the middle of last year or more recently, depending on who you talk to. He is a private person, so no one’s sure what’s going on, but it’s hard to believe he objects to what’s happening around the team. The team’s rebuild with an emphasis on youth has been nothing short of boffo, one of the quickest turnarounds to contender possible.

The immediate future looks extremely promising beyond this year. But there’s still a bit of a question as to whether Girardi’s a part of it.

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