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Yankees’ offseason priorities include retooling rotation, decision on manager

Masahiro Tanaka can opt out of his contract this offseason and become a free agent. / Getty Images / Al Bello

When was the last time the New York Yankees ended their season with a Game 7 loss in the ALCS and considered that a successful year? Has it ever happened?

While a small sect of fans would accept nothing but a 28th World Series crown this year, most would agree that 2017 was an incredible season that offers plenty of reason for optimism.

Middling — or worse — expectations in April flew out the window in a hurry as the Baby Bombers quickly shed the “Baby” label and looked like a perennial contender again, with a young core. No need to dwell too long on Saturday’s loss to the Houston Astros, who won 101 regular-season games.

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Don’t expect the Yanks to look dramatically different in 2018, but here are a few things that might change over the winter.

Retooled rotation

Joe Girardi, center, may not return with his contract set to expire.

Luis Severino, 23, established himself as the staff’s new ace after going 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA. Fellow righthander Sonny Gray, acquired in July, turns 28 next month and will be near the front of the rotation.

The rest of the five-man set remains up in the air, most glaringly Masahiro Tanaka. Coming off his worst season, but with a strong postseason performance, he’ll be 29 in November and can opt out of his contract. The righty will command a high price on the open market, but will (or should) general manager Brian Cashman pony up? If not, expect a more affordable replacement.

CC Sabathia’s lucrative deal is up, but the veteran lefty proved his worth in October. He may return on a more reasonable contract.

On the other hand, Jaime Garcia and Michael Pineda likely have pitched in pinstripes for the last time. Instead, 24-year-old lefty Jordan Montgomery is a candidate for a starting role again.

New kid on the block

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Few rookies have been as dominant as Aaron Judge was in 2017, and he’s a front-runner for AL MVP after swatting a rookie-record 52 homers. He’ll be in pinstripes for years, along with fellow youngsters Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird. That gives the Yanks a right fielder, catcher and first baseman age 26 or younger next year.

Although Judge figures to be the face of the Yankees for years, infield prospect Gleyber Torres figures to be in the majors next year. Although primarily a shortstop, the 20-year-old is blocked by Didi Gregorius, who has come into his own as a well-rounded player. MLB.com’s top-ranked prospect in all of baseball, who had Tommy John surgery over the summer, is expected to stick at third base when he hits the Bronx.

Factor in second baseman Starlin Castro, and that’s six position players who begin next season 28 or younger and are under team control for several more years.

What’s left?

Most important is the future of manager Joe Girardi. The longtime Yanks skipper guided an overachieving ballclub to within a game of the World Series, but some will still remember his Game 2 decision that led to a late-game collapse against the Cleveland Indians. Regardless of the series victory, decisions like that will come into play regarding whether the Yankees want him back. Heck, Girardi might step away on his own with his contract set to expire.

On the field, there’s not much more to worry about this winter. The bullpen is stocked with high-level talent including Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson and Chad Green. Centerfield features Aaron Hicks and Jacoby Ellsbury in a platoon. Brett Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee, owns right field.

The most important position player whose future isn’t set is Todd Frazier. The third baseman, acquired with Robertson from the Chicago White Sox midseason, earned his pinstripes despite a low batting average thanks to his power at the plate. Bringing him back is of moderate importance but seems reasonable to pull off.

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