Rags Could Lead the Yankees to New Riches

As the off-season begins the first and perhaps most important decision the Yankees will have to make is who to hire to replace Joe Girardi as manager. So far several names have been bandied about including recently fired managers like Dusty Baker and John Farrell, coaches already with the team like Tony Pena and Rob Thompson, organization men like Al Pedrique and former big league managers like Willie Randolph.

There are some good and not so good options here, but there is one man whose name has not come up who might be an extremely good fit for the team. One way to think about this is that before thinking about names, the team might want to think about needs. As the Yankees move to the next phase of their plans for a new dynasty, it is reasonably apparent that Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird will be a very strong middle of the order. Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres may step into bigger roles as soon as next year and players like Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks are young enough and good enough to be, valuable role players or solid every day players.

The main thing the Yankees will have to in the next year or so is to build a starting pitching rotation that can compete with the best in the game. That means that Luis Severino has to consolidate the gains he made in 2017, while from the Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery group probably two middle of the rotation or better starters need to emerge. For this reason, a manager who has a proven track record of developing great pitching would  be a huge advantage. 

Working with pitchers is not enough, but what if there was a candidate who in addition to knowing how to work with pitchers had 17 years experience as a big league pitching coach and 16 as big league pitcher. As a coach this pitching maven has won three World Series so could bring the steady experienced hand that would benefit a young team like the Yankees. Additionally, the manager he worked with during those World Series is the best late inning tactician of this generation. Joe Girardi was, on balance, probably better than most at playing late inning matchup, but the best was somewhere else.

The problem with choosing a manager who has won championships and developed great pitching elsewhere is that New York, and specifically  the Yankees, is a sui generis media, and indeed baseball, environment. Many Yankee fans would rightly be concerned about a manager who was new to the Yankees. That concern is not without foundation and should be a factor in this decision, but what if this candidate had been a great Yankee pitcher, appeared in a World Series with the team, thrown a no-hitter and saved well over 200 games while wearing Yankee pinstripes-and had done it all during a period that was probably the worst years of the George Steinbrenner era mishegosh.

You’ve probably figured out by now that the candidate I am suggesting is Dave Righetti, the great Yankee pitcher who was recently dismissed as pitching coach of the Giants, a position he had held since 2001 where helped build the Lincecum-Cain-Bumgarner staff that was the key to the Giants three World Series victories while helping develop numerous other pitchers like Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson along the way. For three World Series runs, Righetti sat on the bench with Bruce Bochy helping him out-manage every opponent the Giants faced. If Righetti is half the post-season manager Bochy is, he would be one of the best in the game. Moreover, Righetti’s experience in the post-season would be a calming influence on the younger Yankees. 

Dave Righetti, pictured here with Mark Gardner celebrating the Giants 2012 World Series win. Photo: cc/Michael Marconi

Dave Righetti, pictured here with Mark Gardner celebrating the Giants 2012 World Series win. Photo: cc/Michael Marconi

Righetti’s experience with the Yankees is also important because during his 11 years with the team he managed to steer clear of any controversy and even took it with equanimity when he was converted to being a reliever at the age of 25, despite having established himself as one of the best young starting pitchers in the game. That conversion was done largely to cover up George Steinbrenner’s failure to resign star reliever Goose Gossage.

There are some obvious reasons why Righetti might not be a great choice. He is 59 years old and has strong roots in the Bay Area so might prefer the front office job the Giants have offered him. He has no managing experience and little is known about his views on managing.  He might clash with pitching coach Larry Rothschild if the latter is retained. These are all questions that can be answered in a good interview process and that should not outweigh all the potential positives of hiring Righetti.

If the Yankees choose to move in another direction for manager, they still would benefit from bringing Righetti into the organization-perhaps replace Rothschild if he is dismissed, but if not to work with him. Making Rags a senior pitching advisor for the whole organization, for example, would be a good way to capture his expertise and help the Yankee pitching at every level. Righetti has proven himself to be one of the best pitching coaches in the game, but his current team is looking at a few rough years before returning to contention. He might be ready for a change. The Yankees would be very wise to offer him something.

Lead Photo: cc/Michael Marconi