New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner backs Aaron Boone, points finger at players

NEW YORK -- Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner is not heeding the resounding calls from fans to fire manager Aaron Boone despite seeing his club go from World Series contenders to the most underachieving team in baseball.

Fans in the Bronx are calling for the firing of Boone in the wake of the Yankees being just 41-39 halfway into the season and in fourth place in the AL East -- ahead of only the Baltimore Orioles and nine games behind the archrival Boston Red Sox.

"Am I mad at what I see? Absolutely," Steinbrenner said in a videoconference call with reporters Thursday morning. "I am aggravated, frustrated, angry, but that's not going to push me into a knee-jerk reaction to get rid of somebody that I believe the players respect, want to play for, want to win for and, overall, has done a good job keeping that clubhouse together through these difficult three months."

Steinbrenner used words like "aggravating" and "maddening" to describe the Yankees' subpar season but threw his support behind not only Boone but also general manager Brian Cashman and the entire coaching staff. And while Boone might be the oddsmakers' favorite pick for the first MLB manager to be fired this year, Steinbrenner made it clear that is unlikely to happen under his watch, where "changes have to be made for more than just the sake of making changes."

"Everybody on the coaching staff has dealt with these players in the past. Nobody's working harder than the coaches," Steinbrenner said. "And the most important thing to me, always, any given year, is that the players respect the coaches, believe in the coaches. And that's absolutely the case here."

Steinbrenner did not vacillate in singling out the Yankees' lacking offense. Nonetheless, he stood by his preseason valuation that, in their current construct, the Yankees are a championship-caliber team despite not doing the one thing that offense is designed to do: score runs.

"The offense ... it's perplexing. It really is," Steinbrenner said. "This team that we put together leaving spring training was a very, very good team. They just haven't played up to their potential. And these aren't aging players; these guys are in their prime. They just haven't played up to their potential and that's been the big problem."

The Yankees are a slow, right-handed-heavy, power-hitting team designed to do one thing. And they're not doing that one thing very well right now.

"We're responsible. We're in charge. We all can share the blame," Steinbrenner said in reference to his analytics team, front office and coaching staff. "But make no mistake about it. In my opinion, the majority of the responsibility lies with the players. They're the ones on the field.

"They need to fix the problem because everyone, including our fan base, rightfully so, has had enough. ... We all can share the blame, but the majority of the blame lies with them."

The Yankees' fan base has grown accustomed to making comparisons between Hal and his late father, George, who ruthlessly made 21 managerial changes while running the team as "The Boss" from 1973 to 2008.

Fans believe that George Steinbrenner, who infamously fired Hall of Famer Yogi Berra 16 games into the 1985 season, would have very little tolerance for the current underperforming club.

Hal Steinbrenner said he understands the comparison and has learned to embrace it.

"It's a very justified question to ever ask and to always ask, because he was one of the greatest at what he did," Steinbrenner said. "There's no doubt I'm a little less spur-of-the-moment than he was in a lot of ways. But all I can assure everybody is, I do my best. And it's a legitimate question to always ask. It never bothers me. I love the man. He was the greatest and it's just understandable."

Yet Steinbrenner pointed out that there is a bit of revisionist history when it comes to evaluating some of his father's most controversial decisions.

"I think what people forget is it often times didn't help, didn't work," Steinbrenner said of his father's sweeping changes. "And oftentimes, quite frankly, he was criticized for it."

The Yankees have the second-highest payroll in the majors at roughly $207 million. Steinbrenner said he would not be against surpassing the luxury tax threshold ($210 million) before the July 31 trade deadline.

"Any given year, there's a number of reasons it makes sense to be under that threshold. But if I feel we're not good enough, we need another piece to be the championship-caliber team that we want to be and expect to be," Steinbrenner said, "then I'm going to seriously consider doing whatever I need to do."

Also on Thursday, the Yankees traded for outfielder Tim Locastro from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for right-hander Keegan Curtis.

Locastro, 28, a career .234 hitter, is hitting .178 with one home run and five RBIs this season. Curtis, 25, was pitching in Double-A for the Yankees with a 3.94 ERA in 12 appearances.

The Yankees had previously acquired Locastro from the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2018 season then traded him to the Diamondbacks a month later.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.