HOUSTON - For the Yankees, a regular season unlike any other in recent memory soon will give way to an offseason that promises the same.
And when the Yankees next return to this city, for Opening Day 2014, it's anyone's guess what the club will look like.
Among the few certainties: Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera won't be in uniform, leaving Derek Jeter as the last of the Core Four.
The holes to fill for a club that did not reach the postseason for the second time in 19 years seemingly are endless. Filling them will be an even greater obstacle if managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner sticks to his guns to bring payroll under $189 million, with all signs showing he plans to do just that.
The Yankees potentially -- take a deep breath -- could be in the market for a new second baseman, third baseman, shortstop, three starting pitchers and -- oh, by the way -- manager.
The offseason intrigue starts not with free-agent-to-be Robinson Cano but with Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees are desperate to be rid of him forever, but they'll take it if arbitrator Fredric Horowitz upholds MLB's 211-game suspension, thus wiping his $25-million salary from next year's books.
That would free up money to fill other holes and ease the burden, at least somewhat, of addressing a long-term deal for Cano.
The second baseman and his new agency, Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports, have made clear there will be no hometown discount. All indications are the Yankees, who very much would like to keep Cano, won't approach a figure like the $300 million that has been floated. Even $200 million could be a long shot.
Something to consider, which has been discussed by some in the organization: The Cardinals made a good-faith effort to keep Albert Pujols two offseasons ago and let it slip out exactly what they offered. They suffered little backlash from the public when the first baseman jumped to the Angels for 10 years and $240 million.
While such a scenario could play out -- and the funds not spent on Cano could be disbursed to plug several holes -- the safe bet remains this: After some blood gets spilled publicly during negotiations that get rough at times, Cano ends up back in pinstripes.
Assuming Cano gets taken care of, that leaves general manager Brian Cashman with plenty of work to do.
There's his free-agent manager, who, if Joe Girardi desires, will have suitors elsewhere -- the Cubs and Nationals, to name two clubs, could have an interest -- and a left side of the infield that must be addressed.
A-Rod figures to be lost for at least half the season and maybe more, meaning there's the need for an everyday third baseman.
Even in the best of circumstances, asking a healthy 39-year-old to handle the day-to-day grind at shortstop would be a lot. And as everyone knows, these are not the best of circumstances for Jeter, coming off an injury-plagued 2013.
Because Jeter's condition is unknowable, the Yankees have to protect themselves by securing someone they're comfortable with five days a week.
Phil Hughes is all but certain to be gone via free agency, and both sides don't seem too upset about seeing him get a fresh start elsewhere.
Hiroki Kuroda also will be a free agent, and although he has enjoyed his time in the Bronx, the feeling from some in the organization is that he might be ready to end his career in his native Japan or pitch one more season with the Dodgers, his home the first four years of his MLB career.
Kuroda's departure, coupled with Pettitte's and Hughes', would leave CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova as the only for-sure members of the 2014 rotation.
The free-agent market is thin, but so are the Yankees' in-house options, led by David Phelps and Adam Warren. Michael Pineda, the cornerstone of the Jesus Montero trade, still hasn't pitched for the Yankees since being acquired two offseasons ago. More than a few voices within the team are concerned about his weight gain this season as he's rehabbed from shoulder surgery.
Girardi, answering a question about Warren Friday night, indirectly summarized it best.
"You never know,'' he said, "what's going to happen during the offseason.''