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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Yankees heading in right direction, still a work in progress

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman speaks

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman speaks to the media during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. on Feb. 20, 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

At a little before 1 p.m. on Monday, 23 players wearing crisp pinstriped uniforms will line up along the first-base line at Yankee Stadium and get introduced to the fans on Opening Day.

The starting battery of Masahiro Tanaka and Brian McCann will be getting ready for the game against the Astros in the bullpen.

Public-address announcer Paul Olden will start by introducing Yankees staffers (“The strength and conditioning coach! The massage therapist! The assistant equipment manager!”) and then the coaches and players before finishing with manager Joe Girardi.

Not mentioned at all during the introductions will be the architect of the roster. General manager Brian Cashman probably will be watching from his office, if he’s watching at all. He might be on the phone and miss it completely. His work is not done by a long shot, even though he has made the decisions on the 25 men who as of this moment are the 2016 Yankees.

How many of those faces still will be in the picture when the team photo is taken sometime later in the summer? Judging by the maniacal way Cashman has juggled the back end of the roster during the last few years, you can easily expect five to 10 of the Opening Day Yankees to be elsewhere in a few months.

That’s the way it is now for Cashman, seemingly the general manager for life under the benign wing of the Steinbrenner family. Gone are the days when the GM was always on the hot seat because of GMS. The legacy of the late George M. Steinbrenner III will always live on in the Bronx, but his methods have been retired just like one of the many uniform numbers in Monument Park.

The Yankees were the only team to not sign a major-league free agent during the offseason. It’s an extraordinary development.

Oh, they’ll spend again, when Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran (after this season) and CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez (after next) come off the payroll.

Heck, the Yankees might spend more than $1 billion in the 2018 offseason, when Bryce Harper and Matt Harvey and Manny Machado and Jose Fernandez are among the megastars scheduled to be free agents.

If that happens, what’s going on now makes perfect sense. The Yankees are waiting for their almost-major league-ready prospects to blossom and their worst contracts to expire while fielding a team that’s good enough to compete for a playoff spot.

But a championship contender? Nah. Sorry. The only one of those in New York plays in Queens.

On the final day of spring training Saturday in Miami, I asked Cashman if the Yankees are a playoff team.

“If everything hits the ceilings that we hope it can, then yeah,” he said. “I think we’ll certainly compete for a playoff spot like we did last year.”

Wild-card fever . . . catch it!

Still, what Cashman is doing is smart. He acquired Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks in a bid to get younger and more athletic, which is also what he accomplished last year when he picked up Didi Gregorius to replace Derek Jeter. Didi eventually made everyone get over the absence of DJ.

Castro and Hicks earned nothing but raves in spring training. Castro could end up as the No. 3 hitter by midseason and Hicks might get exhausted by all the caddying he’s going to have to do for Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Build incrementally now, win it all later. It’s not really the Yankee Way. But neither is tanking and hoping for a string of No. 1 draft picks.

Can the fans accept that there might not be a World Series flag flying over Yankee Stadium on either Opening Day 2017 or ’18? Especially if one or both of those ends up flapping in the breeze over Citi Field?

They might just have to.

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