Will Alex Rodriguez be in a Yankees uniform next year?
That certainly seems to be the expectation. Losing in the playoffs is one thing, but virtually every prominent offensive player—and the Yankees have many of them—put up a feeble effort at the plate, making an already formidable Tigers pitching staff look unstoppable. (Maybe they are unstoppable.)
So, how are the Yankees going to respond?
Will principal owner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman oversee a free-agent spending spree as in 2008, when the team didn't even make the playoffs? Will Cashman get on the phone with his fellow GMs and try to make several trades? Or will we ultimately see much the same roster as the Yanks had this year?
The status quo seems unlikely given the embarrassing results of the ALCS. But an overhaul probably isn't realistic either, considering the salaries of some of the players who Yankees fans would like to see shipped out of town.
But Cashman can't bring back the same team next year. Changes have to made, if for no other reason than to make the roster younger and more athletic than the one that seemed to be fossilizing in the postseason.
Here are five signings or trades that the Yankees could make before next season. The Yanks won't make all of these moves during the offseason, but one or two of them could tweak the roster as needed.
However, A-Rod has to want to leave New York as well. And one would think he'd like to go to another team after how he was treated during the playoffs.
But playing for the Yankees is also a very important part of Rodriguez's image and lifestyle. Reaching milestones like 700 home runs and 3,000 hits might not seem as special in another uniform.
A-Rod says he'll be back with the Yankees next year. And according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Cashman seems resigned to Rodriguez staying in New York, acknowledging his full no-trade clause and a likely lack of interest on the market.
Having said that, rumors of a deal between the Yankees and Miami Marlins popped up during the past week because the trade seems like such a good fit. Rodriguez is a Miami native, while the Marlins need a third baseman and would benefit from his star power.
If the Yankees were to eat a portion of the $114 million on Rodriguez's contract and take on the $66 million still owed to Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle through 2015, perhaps those terms might be appealing to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.
If Rafael Soriano opts out of his contract, as the New York Post's Joel Sherman reports, Bell fills an immediate need in the Yankees' bullpen even after a poor season. Buehrle would also be a nice addition to the starting rotation, likely in the No. 3 spot.
Russell Martin has had a decent two seasons as the Yankees' catcher. While he's provided solid defense behind the plate and some pop with his bat, he's also hit .224 with a .723 OPS.
The Yankees can upgrade at the position, and the free-agent market allows them to do so. Mike Napoli had a down year in 2012, batting .227 with an .812 OPS. But he's also one season removed from a year in which he hit 30 homers with a .320 average and 1.046 OPS.
That slide might bring Napoli's price down a bit on the open market.
Looking at the 2012 numbers, he might not appear to be an upgrade from Martin offensively. Napoli is also a year older. But he gets on base more with better raw power and has the versatility to play first base or designated hitter.
Signing Napoli would also have the benefit of weakening an American League rival. The Texas Rangers would have to find a replacement both at catcher and in the lineup if they were to lose Napoli to a team like the Yankees.
The Arizona Diamondbacks want to trade Justin Upton. D-Backs GM Kevin Towers has twice put his 25-year-old right fielder on the trade block and been rather outspoken about being willing to make a deal.
Had the D-Backs been able to trade Upton at the July 31 deadline, they surely would have. The interest was certainly there, but putting together such a deal during the season can be difficult. But teams have more opportunity to discuss terms of a trade in the offseason.
Upton regressed noticeably this season, dropping from 31 homers to 17, and his OPS went from .898 to .785. That might bring down Towers' asking price a bit, but not by much.
We're still talking about a player who likely hasn't reached his prime, capable of hitting 30 homers with 85 RBI while playing strong defense in right field. Additionally, Upton is signed through 2015. Having an MVP-caliber talent under club control for three more years makes him extremely appealing, and the D-Backs can take advantage of that.
But what would it take to get Upton from the Diamondbacks?
The Yankees have pitching prospects like Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos to offer. But Banuelos just had Tommy John surgery, and Betances was demoted to Double-A. Besides, Arizona is loaded with young pitching.
Cashman would surely have to part with top position player prospects like catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielder Mason Williams, or perhaps third baseman Dante Bichette Jr. A major leaguer like Eduardo Nunez or David Phelps might be included in a trade too.
For a cost-controlled young alternative to Nick Swisher, however, Cashman might decide such a transaction is worth the price.
This is another option the Yankees could pursue if they can't get Justin Upton or decide to feature more speed in their outfield and lineup.
Perhaps the Yanks feel that Brett Gardner, if healthy, gives them enough speed. But if the team really wants to overhaul its lineup, become less dependent on home runs and create more movement on the basepaths, featuring Denard Span along with Gardner could be the way to go.
Span could bat leadoff, allowing the Yankees to move Derek Jeter to the No. 2 spot for which he's ideally suited. He also could either play right field or replace Curtis Granderson in center field, opening up a move to a corner outfield spot.
From there, the Yankees could shuffle their three starting outfielders into whichever defensive alignment is best. Perhaps Granderson plays left with Gardner in center and Span in right. Gardner could play left with Granderson in center and Span in right. Or how about Gardner in left, Span in center and Granderson in right, where his bat might fit best anyway?
For those who might prefer to trade Granderson, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees plan to pick up his $15 million option for next season. That doesn't mean the team can't still trade him, but it seems unlikely.
A player with two consecutive 40-homer seasons, even if his batting average is subpar, isn't easily replaced. Besides, with Granderson's 40-homer power in the outfield, the Yankees can afford to fill the other two spots with speedier players.
Though the Yankees' starting pitching performed well in the playoffs, the team needs a little new blood—preferably younger—in its rotation.
The Yanks surely don't want to go through another season with the question marks of Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova in their starting five. Andy Pettitte surely has a job if he wants it, but he'll be 41 years old next year. And will Freddy Garcia return for one more season?
Anibal Sanchez, 28, would give the Yankees a 200-inning pitcher with 200-strikeout capability for the middle of their rotation. He's probably better suited as a No. 3 pitcher, rather than a No. 2 behind CC Sabathia, but if the team re-signs Hiroki Kuroda, that's exactly where Sanchez would slot in.
Sanchez has proven he can succeed in the American League based on his late-season and postseason performance with the Detroit Tigers. Perhaps there would be some concern as to whether he can handle the rigors of pitching in the AL East and the demands of playing in New York, though. Could Sanchez be another Javier Vazquez?
Another option—one that seems like a very Yankees-like move in recent years—would be to sign Jake Peavy to a one- or two-year deal. He would likely be much cheaper than Sanchez.
Peavy had a bounce-back season with a 3.37 ERA (though his 11-12 record was mediocre) and averaged 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings. He'll be 32 years old next year, which is pretty young for the Yankees.
Follow @iancass on Twitter