Joe Girardi sent some mixed signals to Gary Sanchez

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That perception that former Yankees manager Joe Girardi was too hard on catcher Gary Sanchez and didn’t get along with him is thought to be a big reason why the Yankees chose not to bring Girardi back as manager. Today the New York Daily News has an interesting story about that.

It’s a John Harper column, actually. The news nugget in the story is worth thinking about. The framing of it by Harper, though, is kind of weird, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The nugget: Sanchez’s defense was not good when he was coming up through the minors. To deal with it, Yankees coaches put him through a lot of passed ball drills, setting a pitching machine to fire balls in the dirt. Sanchez reportedly improved some as a result, but he hated the drills. Early this year Sanchez complained about it and Girardi told him it was OK to lay off the drills. As a result his defense declined, leading to the late season drama in which Girardi called out Sanchez’s defense and people started talking about Austin Romine starting playoff games behind the plate and stuff.

That’s all straightforward. But Harper frames it like this:

. . . two sources say there is a misperception that management was unhappy with Joe Girardi for publicly scolding Sanchez in regard to his defense last season. Actually, they say, the issue was more that Girardi wasn’t tough enough on Sanchez behind closed doors, at least in terms of his practice habits, which may have led to the catcher regressing defensively, compared to his rookie season.

I get what his sources are getting at here, but the level of practice Girardi forced Sanchez to endure is not the end of the story, right? If what the story says is true, and Girardi first told Sanchez not to do passed ball drills, only to later publicly scold him for bad defense, the issue is still Girardi being too hard on Sanchez. Or, at the very least, being arbitrary and capricious with him. “Hey dude, don’t worry about the drills” followed up with public criticism about his defense. That’s still a case of throwing your player under the bus.

If it plays out differently — if Girardi says after one of Sanchez’s bad defensive games, “I take responsibility for this. Gary is doing his best out there. I’ve made a point for him to work on his bat more this year and to not get too burnt out with defensive drills” — you have to think that Sanchez’s relationship with Girardi is not a strained as it reportedly became. A manager’s job is to have his player’s back and Girardi didn’t have Sanchez’s back, either in helping him become the best catcher he can be due to the defensive work or in defending him in public.

It’s not super important in the grand scheme of things I don’t suppose — Girardi is gone — but I don’t think the takeaway here can simply be “Girardi was too soft on Sanchez and didn’t make him practice enough.” If anything he was unduly harsh, at least as far as how he was treated in public went. The takeaway should be “don’t jerk your players around and hang them out to dry after you set them up to fail.”

Aaron Boone should be free to do whatever he thinks is best with respect to Sanchez’s defensive drills. More, less, the same, whatever. The point is to get the most out of Sanchez that he can. What he should not do is what Girardi apparently did and send one of team’s most important players mixed signals in a way that embarrasses him publicly.