NEW YORK -- As the Yankees prepared to open their final series of the regular season, manager Joe Girardi closed the clubhouse so he could address the members of his roster, many of whom will be expected to play key roles when the team reassembles next spring in Florida.
The general message as they put the finishing touches on an 84-win season and a fourth-place finish in the American League East, Girardi said, was that "there's a lot of work to do to get to where we want."
"There's younger kids knocking on older players' doors," Girardi continued. "For the younger kids that have had some success, the hard part is not getting here, the hard part is sticking. As people adjust to you, you have to make adjustments as a ballplayer. I think next year's camp could be extremely competitive, and you need to be ready."
While the Yankees have been in the midst of a transition over the past several seasons, having bid farewell to the Core Four while adding splashes of youth to the big league roster, they have not come out on the winning end of a postseason game since Game 5 of the 2012 American League Division Series.
"Obviously our goal every year is to come in and win the division, win the World Series," Sabathia said. "That's the reason why you play with the Yankees. The future looks bright, though. We've got a lot of good young players in here and a mix of veterans. Hopefully we can get that done in the next couple of years."
Rotation:Masahiro Tanaka will return as the ace after winning a career-high 14 games and firing 199 2/3 innings. Though Pineda had what Girardi called a "mind-boggling" season, his 10.605 K/9 ratio led all AL starters. Sabathia continued to show encouraging signs in the latter stages of his career, inducing soft contact as his cutter improves. From there, the Yanks could add a starter via trade or free agency (Rich Hill could be an option). In-house options include Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino and Warren, plus prospects Dietrich Enns and Jordan Montgomery.
Bullpen: Betances led all Major League relievers with 126 strikeouts, but his end-of-season swoon may prompt the Yankees to pursue late-inning help. Interest in Aroldis Chapman wouldn't be a surprise after dealing him to the Cubs at midseason; Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon should also be available. Tyler Clippard figures to return, while Severino and/or Warren could stick here if they're not starting. New York will need a lefty; if that's not Chasen Shreve, maybe Layne showed enough in his half season to return. Other choices include Nick Goody, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder and Kirby Yates.
Catcher: Sanchez clearly staked a claim as the catcher of the future, which will lead to an interesting decision on Brian McCann, who is signed through 2018 with a vesting team option for '19. McCann might be an attractive trade target for a rebuilding club like the Braves, but he could just as easily help the Yankees as a part-time catcher and DH. That's something they'll discuss. Romine proved to be a solid backup, though it's unlikely they'll carry three catchers.
First base: Teixeira's retirement opens the door for a spring battle between Bird and Austin, and Girardi has talked about possibly carrying both as a platoon. Bird is scheduled to play in the Arizona Fall League as he comes back from surgery to repair a torn right labrum, while Austin has impressed with his ability to pick up nuances at first base. Butler only played 11 games, but he said he'd be interested in a return if the Yanks are.
Second base: Castro is set to return for a second season in pinstripes after becoming the fourth Yankees second baseman to hit 20 homers, joining Robinson Cano, Joe Gordon and Alfonso Soriano in that select group. Get used to seeing Castro around, as he's under contract through 2019. Ronald Torreyes proved to be a capable sparkplug at second, third and shortstop.
Shortstop: The Yanks can feel good about their defense up the middle, as Gregorius has developed into a solid all-around player. Gregorius arrived with some question about his ability against left-handed pitching -- remember, there was talk about platooning him with Brendan Ryan -- but he has put that all to rest, setting career highs in hits, homers and RBIs.
Third base: Headley has two years and $26 million remaining on his deal with the Yanks, and while he got off to a terrible start in April, he rescued his year with a decent finish. The defensive issues that affected Headley in 2015 seemed to disappear, for which he offered credit to infield coach Joe Espada.
Outfield: It is possible that the Yankees could chase a free agent to help their offense (Jose Bautista? Yoenis Cespedes?), but barring a trade, they have Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury under contract to serve as their top of the order, left field and center field tandem. Hicks and Judge should compete for at-bats in the spring, while Austin, Jake Cave, Frazier, Rob Refsnyder and Mason Williams could play roles.
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.