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On Baseball: The Yankees Have a Consolation Prize: The 2018 Season

On the player front, C. C. Sabathia’s contract is up, Masahiro Tanaka can opt out of his and, because of new rules governing the signing of international players, the chase for the Japanese two-way talent Shohei Otani — who could fill a spot in the rotation and a gaping hole at designated hitter — will not simply be a matter of emptying the treasure chest.

While Cashman seems unlikely to be going anywhere — the principal owner Hal Steinbrenner has shown little inclination to fire people with far less merit — the case of Girardi is more complicated.

He just completed his 10th season with the Yankees, and though he shepherded the club through several transitional years while keeping the team competitive and was duly praised for his work this season, questions remain about whether his relentless style — amid the attendant scrutiny of New York — has a shelf life.

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Starlin Castro, left, and C.C. Sabathia watching from the dugout during Game 7 of the A.L.C.S. on Saturday night. Sabathia, 37, may not be with the Yankees next season.

Credit
Ben Solomon for The New York Times

And at a time when the ability to relate to players is becoming more valued, it is fair to wonder how deeply the 53-year-old Girardi connects on that level. Girardi became so frustrated this season over catcher Gary Sanchez’s inattentiveness in blocking pitches that he publicly called him out, something Girardi rarely — if ever — had done in the past.

Asked to assess Girardi’s work this season, Cashman said: “I think everybody did everything they possibly could to get where we wanted to go — to be the last team standing — and we fell short.”

Asked if he would recommend bringing Girardi back, Cashman said, “My recommendation will be to talk to our owner and sit down and find out what’s next.”

While the barrage of criticism over a rare tactical blunder by Girardi – he chose not to ask for a video replay that might have stemmed Cleveland’s comeback victory in Game 2 of the division series — largely subsided once the Yankees dispatched the Indians and went on to nearly win the A.L.C.S., it left Girardi shaken.

In the wake of incident, there were even moments where Girardi seemed somewhat fatalistic about his future with the team.

And Girardi, too, will be asking some questions — not just of Steinbrenner and Cashman, but of his family. It is a ritual each time Girardi’s contract expires, most recently occurring after the 2013 season. Back then, he had a quick conversation with his wife and three children — the oldest is now a college freshman — to hear what they had to say about his job. He will do so again.

“I’m not living my kid’s lives; I’m not living my wife’s life,” he said recently. “I’m living, in a sense, my life, so I don’t know what changes for them.”

Girardi said Saturday night that he would speak with Cashman after gauging his family’s feelings. “That’s not my concern right now,” he said. “I’ve had 10 great years here. I feel extremely blessed. God has been good to me and we’ll see what the future holds.”

The same can be said for several other Yankees. Sabathia, who is 37, said Saturday night that he wanted to return to the Yankees in 2018 — “Of course,” he said — but at what price? It will be nowhere near the $25 million he earned in the final year of his contract, but Sabathia is extremely prideful and, after his recent resurgence, he may find suitor willing to pay more than the Yankees next season.

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Aaron Judge making an acrobatic catch in Game 7 to rob Houston of a home run. He remains the key piece of the Yankees’ promising core of young players.

Credit
Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Another free agent who wants to return is third baseman Todd Frazier, a midseason acquisition who quickly established himself as a voice in the clubhouse and who played with aplomb in the playoffs. But with top prospect Gleyber Torres likely to make his debut at some point next season, the Yankees do not seem eager to commit to a multiyear deal to keep Frazier around.

Tanaka’s performance in the playoffs — he had three dominant outings — may have raised his value enough after a lackluster regular season to prompt him to opt out of the remaining three years and $66 million on his contract.

“It’s the first time for me being in this situation,” Tanaka said through an interpreter on Saturday night. “I don’t fully understand how it’s going to work out, but obviously, I’m going to talk to my agent.”

How the financial pieces fit together has rarely been as great a concern for the Yankees as it is now. Steinbrenner has said getting below the luxury-tax threshold for the first time — it will be $197 million next year — is an objective, if not an edict. It would allow the Yankees to shed the onerous new penalties for repeat offenders that go into effect next year.

The Yankees, who carried a payroll of close to $220 million this season, will shed nearly $70 million with the expiration of the contracts of Sabathia ($25 million), Matt Holliday ($13 million), Alex Rodriguez ($21 million) and Michael Pineda ($7.4 million).

They could pare payroll even further if they find a suitor for Chase Headley, who has one year and $13 million left on his contract, or a taker for Jacoby Ellsbury, even if they have to eat a large chunk of the three years and $66 million remaining on his deal. (Ellsbury has a full no-trade clause, but it is hard to imagine him not being open to waiving it to get to a place where he could play regularly.)

On the other side of the ledger, eight players are due for raises through arbitration.

It is those young, talented and mostly affordable players, though, who form the foundation of the Yankees’ optimism.

“There’s a lot of pieces that are here that have a chance to have exciting times ahead,” Cashman acknowledged. And then he added a cautionary note: “I think people in my chair, if you’re trying to be good at what you do, you never assume anything.”

The team down the hallway on Saturday night is proof of that.

The Astros arrived ahead of schedule in 2015, knocking off the Yankees in the wild-card game before a crushing collapse against the Kansas City Royals in the division series. Though the Astros returned for the 2016 season both optimistic and resolute, they got off to an awful start and never fully recovered, missing the postseason entirely.

“Ultimately, the future is never promised,” Cashman said. And yet for the Yankees, it is about as promising as can be.

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