The Yankees were dreaming big in late July, enjoying a seven-game cushion in the American League East, but the weeks that followed suggested that the club may have overachieved just by having the opportunity to play those nine postseason innings against the Astros in the AL Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium.
Now the focus is on 2016, with general manager Brian Cashman having already headed his professional scouting meetings, where decision-makers evaluated what the Yankees have and what they might target to add from outside.
The Yanks have been Hot Stove kings a few times in recent years (2008-09, 2013-14), but it does not figure to be one of those free-spending offseasons. More likely, the Yankees will continue to balance their expiring long-term contracts against a fresh young core that gained valuable experience down the stretch this year.
"I recognize that we have to find ways to improve ourselves and continue to find more weapons for Joe Girardi to utilize and this coaching staff to fall back on," Cashman said. "The team we finished with wasn't reflective of what our capabilities were."
Rotation: There should be plenty of familiar names in this group. Masahiro Tanaka will return for his third season as the Yankees' ace, while Pineda may slot as the No. 2 starter. Top prospect Luis Severino showed great poise over 11 starts and could be in the big leagues to stay. Eovaldi should have no issue being ready for the start of '16, while CC Sabathia will continue to manage his right knee issues after completing treatment in an alcohol rehabilitation center. The Yanks believe that Nova's command will improve in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, and Cashman said that he considers Warren a starter moving forward. Bryan Mitchell provides another depth option.
Bullpen:Andrew Miller will return as the Yankees' closer, coming off his 36-save debut campaign, and he should have Dellin Betances installed as his trusty setup man. The Yanks also feel they have a valuable piece in Wilson. Chasen Shreve pitched well for most of the year but faded down the stretch. There was a continuous shuttle of relievers from Triple-A who will have opportunities in the spring, including Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos and Nick Rumbelow. An upgrade from outside is possible; remember, the Yanks unsuccessfully tried to acquire Craig Kimbrel from the Padres at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Catcher:Brian McCann provided the type of season that the Yankees believed he was capable of, slugging 26 homers and driving in 94 runs while continuing to handle the pitching staff well. John Ryan Murphy proved to be a capable backup on both sides of the ball. It is possible that Murphy could see more playing time in '16, considering that McCann faded in the second half. Touted prospect Gary Sanchez scored two September at-bats and is crushing in the Arizona Fall League. Cashman raved that the team's catching depth is "great" right now.
First base:Mark Teixeira was a borderline AL MVP candidate before being lost for the season in August to a fractured right shin, an injury which made the Yankees more vulnerable against left-handed pitching. Teixeira will be ready for Spring Training, which creates the puzzle of what to do with Greg Bird. Cashman said that Teixeira will be the starting first baseman, and because Bird is not envisioned as playing another position, it would "create a problem" to find a place for him on the Opening Day roster.
Second base: Here's an area where the Yankees may look to upgrade from outside. They stuck with Drew longer than most expected, but their late July interest in Ben Zobrist showed that they were already looking to upgrade. Rob Refsnyder embraced his late September opportunity and provides comfort as an in-house option, while the Yanks could also evaluate Ackley further on the defensive side. Jose Pirela enjoyed a terrific year at Triple-A but has yet to see that success translate to the big league level. The list of free-agent second basemen includes Zobrist, Daniel Murphy, Chase Utley, Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Shortstop: Gregorius was a completely different player by the end of the season, prompting scouts to rave about the drastic improvement. Gregorius' bat showed life against both lefties and righties, and his athleticism was impressive to watch on defense, particularly the strong throwing arm -- part of the reason he has been listed as a finalist for a Gold Glove Award. Brendan Ryan has an option and could return as a capable infield backup, though the Yanks might look for a player with a better bat.
Third base:Chase Headley will return for the second year of a four-year contract. It was a frustrating season for the veteran, who set a career high with 23 errors at the hot corner while batting .259 with 11 homers and 62 RBIs. There were spurts of offense from Headley, but he limped to the finish, hitting .179 in September/October. Cashman suggested that prospect Eric Jagielo could play a role in the future; Ackley and Pirela are viewed more as stop-gap alternatives.
Outfield: There doesn't seem to be much maneuverability here. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are locked in as the left fielder and center fielder, respectively, and the Yanks will try to get that duo firing offensively the way they did early in the season. Ellsbury and Gardner are key to a plan to get the Yankees away from being solely homer oriented, unless Cashman decides to reverse course and deals Gardner in order to create some maneuverability. Carlos Beltran has slowed defensively and is a prime candidate to transition to a designated-hitter role, but the Yanks have little choice but to trot him out to right field because of Alex Rodriguez's DH-only status. The Yankees will have Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams looking to crack the roster as reserves. Cashman said he doesn't expect slugging prospect Aaron Judge to be on the Opening Day roster, but he could play a part at some point later in the year.
Designated hitter: The Yanks pulled the plug on putting A-Rod back in the field in late August, saying that he just didn't appear comfortable taking grounders at first base. Rodriguez embraced his role as a full-time DH and earned his spot as a viable middle-of-the-order hitter. After not knowing what to expect going into '15, the Yanks hope they can expect more good things from Rodriguez heading into the final two years of his contract as he takes aim at Babe Ruth's home run total of 714 (he's 27 shy, at 687). Girardi said he sees A-Rod as almost exclusively a DH moving forward, and will occasionally use the DH spot to give half-days to veterans like Beltran and Teixeira.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.