It's now been a bit more than 48 hours since the Yankees season ended with Alex Rodriguez in the batter's box to end the five stages of grief that was also known as the American League Championship Series.
Denial was first (How in the world are the Yankees losing to these guys?) and then came anger (These hitters suck!) and bargaining (If we can just squeeze an extra out from A.J. Burnett, we'll be just fine). Depression bubbled up to the surface in the bottom of the fifth inning on Friday night when Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz drilled a pair of nails into the Yankees coffin and, finally, sweet acceptance. The Rangers were simply better for those six games and there's nothing that's going to change the outcome.
Baseball waits for no man, though, which means that we're already starting to think about 2011. Outside of the obvious chase for Cliff Lee that will begin after the World Series, it's a bit too soon to start postualting about who the Yankees will try to bring into the fold. It's also hard to know what kinds of offers Kerry Wood is going to get now that he's resurrected himself in pinstripes, although it would be swell to have him back in the bullpen next season.
What we can do, however, is look at five guys whose futures belong only to themselves and the Yankees. They are the four players known as the Core Four and Joe Girardi, who played with them and now manages them from behind his binder.
Jorge Posada: Posada is under contract and will be back in 2011, but the question is about what role he'll fill. His catching has become almost farcical and he's unable to stay healthy while carrying a heavy load behind the plate which makes it seem obvious that he should be mostly a designated hitter next season. It is either time to call up Jesus Montero to do much of the lifting as the catcher or bring in someone else, i.e. not Francisco Cervelli, who can be the primary catcher while hoping Posada's bat bounces back without the aches and pains associated with the tools of ignorance. The big question is whether Posada will swallow the change in his role and it's a question that will keep coming up as the Yankees transition away from the guys who have been their leading lights for so long.
Andy Pettitte: The Yankees don't have much say in this one. He's got a spot if he wants one and the choice has to do with things outside the game of baseball. If he leaves, he's going out on a real high note after a splendid season. That success -- and a little sentimentality -- is why we hope he's back for one more spin on the carousel.
Mariano Rivera: Same deal here, although we're pretty sure he'll be back. The September struggles sounded a bit of an alarm, but his work in the playoffs quieted any fears that he'd totally lost his mojo. The bigger issue, as with Posada, is with the plan of succession. Joba Chamberlain no longer looks like the closer in waiting and, should Wood leave, the team needs to think about contingency options in case of a serious injury to Mo and the possibility that he decides not to come back in 2012.
Derek Jeter: There's no reason to go through all the particulars again. It's difficult to imagine that Jeter won't be a Yankee next season and, despite the coming articles to the contrary, no one's really going to be too concerned with the money or duration as long as Jeter remains in the fold. What should concern people is whether the Yankees will be putting a move off of shortstop on the table as part of the discussions with Jeter. This is touchier than the Posada issue, but it is going to be a necessity in the life of whatever contract he signs and the team has to deal with it up front lest it become a running soap opera during a future season.
Less specific to Jeter, but just as important for the Yankees is to figure out how committed they are to being a younger team. They looked old for long stretches of the season and played old against the Rangers. They aren't actually as creaky as they appeared at times, but they do need to have a real plan in place for how to deal with the graying edges of the team so that they don't find themselves without the players they need going forward.
Joe Girardi: He'll be back, because neither side really has a better option than continuing their relationship. That doesn't mean we can't hope to see a different manager in the dugout. It was hard not to notice the difference between the way Girardi, never deviating from his binder full of matchup stats and preconceived notions about players, and Bruce Bochy of the Giants managed their teams. Game Six of the NLCS went San Francisco's way because Bochy went for the jugular with his pitching changes, and his decision to shake up his lineup more than once helped shape the entire series. They run different teams and have different pieces at their disposal, but no one would argue with seeing a bit less detachment from the Yankee manager next season.