NEW YORK -- The Yankees were forced to make a hard pivot quickly in late July, as an extended losing skid forced management to look in the mirror. Ultimately, they realized that their roster no longer seemed equipped to stand out in the ultra-competitive American League East.
Shuffling the deck to create room for promising talent like power-hitting catcher Gary Sanchez, the Yankees remained in the postseason chase until the final week of the season while morphing into a fun club to watch, one that believed in their abilities even when most observers had counted them out.
"I think there are some good things that happened this year; we just didn't reach our goals," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But there are some good things that took place where you saw some players come up and do some good things and get some valuable experience, and that should help us moving forward."
Though the Yankees are heading home without a playoff appearance for the third time in four seasons, there is optimism that the returning core -- plus some of the players added to replenish the farm system -- will pay dividends in 2017 and beyond.
"I love a lot of the young players that we saw who came up over the course of the season," Brett Gardner said. "I'm a pretty big Gary Sanchez fan. I think we've got a lot of young guys that are ready to contribute at this level, and I feel like we have some veteran guys here in place that are still capable of getting the job done."
Record: 84-78, fourth place, American League East.
Defining moment: Powered by the Baby Bombers, the Yankees were feeling good about their playoff chances on the night of Sept. 15 at Fenway Park, carrying a three-run lead to the ninth inning. Dellin Betances blew his second consecutive save, serving up a three-run walk-off home run to red-hot Hanley Ramirez as part of a five-run ninth. A Yankees victory would have put New York just three games back in the AL East; instead, Boston swept the four-game series and the Yanks never recovered.
What went right: Arguably no Yankee shone brighter than Sanchez, who tied an 86-year-old record set by Wally Berger of the 1930 Boston Braves by reaching 20 home runs in his 51st career game. Almost as impressive was Sanchez's work behind the plate, where he showed off a strong throwing arm and on-field maturity well beyond his 23 years.
Carlos Beltran was the team's top hitter before his trade to Texas, but Didi Gregorius continued to develop into one of the team's best all-around players while forming a solid double-play combination up the middle with Starlin Castro. Chase Headley recovered from a brutal start, hitting with consistency after the sixth week of the season.
Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge made history on Aug. 13, becoming the first players ever to homer back to back in their first at-bats. Mark Teixeira became the fifth switch-hitter in history to reach 400 home runs, finishing his career with 409. Ronald Torreyes came out of nowhere to make the team and proved himself as a valuable utility man.
On the pitching side, Masahiro Tanaka performed like an ace, logging a career-high 14 victories while working 199 2/3 innings. CC Sabathia had a resurgent campaign, posting his lowest ERA (3.91) since 2012 while improving his expanded repertoire.
The vaunted relief trio of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Betances -- "No Runs DMC" -- was as good as advertised; the Yanks were 19-2 when all three pitched, combining for a 1.36 ERA and 13.70 strikeouts per nine innings in those games. Luis Severino was dominant out of the bullpen, posting a 0.39 ERA in 23 1/3 relief innings.
What went wrong: The Yankees banked heavily that Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez would reprise their performance from '15, in which they combined for 64 homers. Instead, Teixeira battled injuries and the Mendoza line before finishing with 15 homers, while Rodriguez hit just nine homers before playing his final game for the Yankees on Aug. 12, leaving with 696.
Having started the year 9-17, the Yanks fought until June 10 to get over .500. They tread water into August, prompting managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner to green-light trades involving Chapman, Miller, Beltran and Ivan Nova. Jacoby Ellsbury and Gardner struggled with consistency at the top of the lineup, while offseason pickup Aaron Hicks hit .191 in his first 95 games as a Yankee before turning it on late.
Michael Pineda had a baffling season, striking out 207 in 175 2/3 innings while finishing 6-12 with a 4.82 ERA. Severino was awful in 11 starts, going 0-8 with a 8.50 ERA. Betances was worked heavily and struggled late, while Nathan Eovaldi had Tommy John surgery that could cost him all of 2017. The Yanks' fourth-place finish marked their lowest since 1992.
Biggest surprise: Girardi said that he expected Sanchez would help the big league club at some point this year, but nobody could have forecasted him carrying the club for the better part of two months while muscling into the AL Rookie of the Year conversation. The secret is out now, and expectations will be high going into '17.
Hitter of the Year: A case could be made for Sanchez, but we'll hand it to Gregorius since he was with the big league club wire to wire. Gregorius was a legitimate threat, setting career highs in home runs (20), RBIs (70), hits (155) and a team-leading 54 extra-base hits. That's the most extra-base hits by a Yankees shortstop since Derek Jeter in 2007.
Pitcher of the Year: Tanaka finished the year in contention for the AL ERA title, vying to be the first Yankee to bring home those honors since Rudy May in 1980. More importantly, he was able to make 30 starts and came one out shy of reaching the 200-inning plateau for the first time in his career. Tanaka finished the year 8-1 with a 2.28 ERA over his final nine starts.
Rookie of the Year: Sanchez's historic but shortened season might point voters toward the Tigers' Michael Fulmer for the AL award, but there's no challenge in naming Sanchez the Yankees' top rookie of 2016. Consider this amazing stat, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau: The only Yankees to ever hit 20 home runs between Aug. 10 and the end of any season were Babe Ruth (1927) and Roger Maris ('61).
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. 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.