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The most dramatic Yankees questions as they try to figure out and fix what went so wrong

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Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post (2); Getty Images

A whirlwind Yankees season that once carried weighty comparisons to their 1998 juggernaut squad ended with a whimper in a demoralizing and telling series-sweeping Game 4 loss to the nemesis Astros.

Going from a high-water mark of 38 games over .500 (61-23) in July to falling short again in the ALCS to Houston – for the third time in six years – figures to hold major offseason ramifications that extend well beyond the Yankees’ World Series drought reaching 13 years since their MLB-record 27th championship in 2009.

Suddenly, there are so many questions for Hal Steinbrenner to answer regarding the front office, the manager and, probably most paramount to the organization’s paying customers, the status of the roster, specifically free-agent-to-be Aaron Judge after Judge bet on himself and delivered an AL-record 62 home runs in his walk year.

The sting of elimination – with Sunday’s 6-5 loss to Houston at the Stadium – is still fresh, but it’s certainly not too soon to dive into some of the most crucial questions facing the Yankees after another promising season unraveled without adding to the franchise’s trophy case and ring collection.

Should he stay or should he go?

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Aaron Judge added millions of dollars to what he will command as a free agent with his 62-homer regular season, but how much did he squander with a lackluster postseason?

Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The contractual clash between the Yankees and their best player can resume now that the season is over. Judge has earned a payday far greater than the seven-year, $213.5 million offer he turned down – and the team publicly released as a negotiating ploy – in March, but what will that number be after Judge posted a .139 batting average with two home runs and 15 strikeouts in nine postseason games? And will he accept it? Few athletes have delivered in such a mammoth way after betting on themselves in contract talks, and Judge should be rewarded for the historic 62-homer regular season he posted, even considering the team’s latest postseason letdown with him as the centerpiece of the lineup. The Yankees should move quickly to dramatically raise their offer before other deep-pocketed teams – such as the Mets, Dodgers, hometown Giants or, gasp, Red Sox – attempt to arrange their recruiting sitdowns with No. 99.

Is this the end for Aaron Boone?

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Don Mattingly is without a manager job as questions swirl around Aaron Boone. Hmm.

AP

The fifth-year manager drew the ire of the fan base with several decisions over the past few weeks, most notably bypassing reliever Clay Holmes in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS and turning to Lou Trivino with ALCS Game 3 in the balance. Dropping Judge from the leadoff spot to second in the batting order and benching of shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa were overdue moves earlier this month, but the Yankees couldn’t follow up their five-game ouster of Cleveland with even one win this time against the Astros. Boone has posted a .603 winning percentage in the regular season, and the Yankees have reached the playoffs in all five seasons he’s been at the helm, albeit with no World Series appearances and just one other ALCS berth (2019). Notably, Yankees legend Don Mattingly stepped down as Marlins manager at the end of the season, and there undoubtedly will be calls for his return to the organization that bypassed him as Joe Torre’s replacement in favor of Joe Girardi in 2008. Of course, as we found out years ago with Yogi Berra, the problem with hiring a beloved team figure such as Mattingly is one day you likely will have to fire him. Those scenarios rarely end well, either.

Should Brian Cashman get to make that call?

Cashman just finished his 25th season (with zero losing seasons) in the general manager’s chair, a remarkable number that pushed him past Hall of Famer Ed Barrow (1921-44, 10 World Series titles) as the longest-tenured GM in franchise history. Before Cashman ascended to the job upon Bob Watson’s resignation in 1998, George Steinbrenner had employed a dozen different men in that capacity over a quarter century after buying the team. The five-year deal Cashman signed in 2017 is set to expire, but team president Randy Levine told The Post’s baseball podcast “The Show” in September that Cashman is “likely” to return for a 26th season due to his strong working relationship with Hal Steinbrenner. Does a 13th consecutive year without a World Series berth change that thinking?

What happened to the bullpen?

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The Yankees need bullpen repair, and lights-out closer Edwin Diaz is becoming available across town.

Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The team’s deepest source of strength over the first half of the season devolved into unpredictability due to injuries, as well as former closer Aroldis Chapman’s collapse into an unreliable reliever and malcontent teammate who deservedly was left off the ALDS and ALCS rosters after skipping a mandatory team workout. At least Chapman’s $18 million salary finally comes off the books, and oft-injured Zack Britton ($14 million), Chad Green ($4 million) and Miguel Castro ($2.6 million) join him in the free-agent ranks. Mets All-Star Edwin Diaz and Braves closer Kenley Jansen headline the free-agent reliever market, and there are dozens of others available to fill out the bullpen if the Yankees decide Clay Holmes or someone else already on hand will enter 2023 as the team’s closer.

If not Judge, then who?

In addition to Judge and the aforementioned relievers, midseason pickups Andrew Benintendi and Matt Carpenter and 14-game winner Jameson Taillon will become free agents. No. 3 starter Luis Severino has a $15 million team option, but it’s hard to believe the Yankees wouldn’t exercise it after Severino pitched well (7-3, 3.18 ERA) following Tommy John surgery. Anthony Rizzo is eligible to opt out of his deal worth $16 million in 2023, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen. I expect Judge to continue his Bronx career as a legacy player, but the Yankees clearly will splurge elsewhere if he decides to leave. And nothing should be ruled out. They bypassed a deep shortstop market last winter with prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza purportedly on the way, but Kiner-Falefa, Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera all started games at the position against the Astros. Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa headline another superstar class of free-agent shortstops, and starting pitchers Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom (sorry, Mets fans) and Carlos Rodon are among those who could be available due to opt-out clauses in their contracts.

Today’s back page

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New York Post

Surprise, surprise

This is not how any of us could have imagined the New York sports year playing out earlier this summer.

That is, with the Giants and Jets serving as the two biggest surprises of the NFL season over the first seven weeks, and with the Mets and the Yankees completely petering out in October after dominating their divisions for months.

To put the gaudy records of the 6-1 Giants and the 5-2 Jets into the perspective of recent history – with the two teams extending their current winning streaks to four games apiece with victories Sunday over the Jaguars and Broncos, respectively – the two local teams haven’t combined for more than 11 wins in any of the past five NFL seasons.

The only year over that span in which they reached 11 wins between them was in 2019, when the Jets finished 7-9 and the Giants went 4-12.

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Lamarcus Joyner could celebrate as the Jets improved to 5-2 win an ugly but effective win over the Broncos.

AP

Of course, not all of the news was positive. The Jets suffered a terrible blow with the likelihood that rookie running back Breece Hall – who had busted a 62-yard touchdown run in the first quarter – suffered a serious knee injury, possibly a season-ending torn ACL.

The Giants also played much of the game without two starters on the offensive line – first-round right tackle Evan Neal and guard Ben Bredeson – who also suffered knee injuries, though theirs are not believed to be as serious as Hall’s injury.

I also found it interesting that first-year Giants coach Brian Daboll wasn’t particularly complimentary of his team after its 23-17 win. He lamented the late-game mistakes that “made it tougher than we needed to” before the defense stopped the Jaguars at the 1-yard line on the final play to preserve the victory.

With a game against the Seahawks on the road ahead of their bye week, followed by home dates against the Texans and the Lions, the Giants should be no worse than 8-2 or 7-3 entering their Thanksgiving Day clash in Dallas in Week 12.

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Daniel Jones and the Giants ran past the Jaguars on the road, but Brian Daboll’s post-game comments make clear he’s holding his 6-1 team to a high standard.

Getty Images

Second-year coach Robert Saleh’s Jets are tied for the second-best record in the AFC behind the 5-1 Bills. Gang Green will meet their AFC East rival in a game of suddenly increased importance in two weeks (Nov. 6) at MetLife after facing the Patriots at home in Week 8.

The Giants and Jets also impressively have yet to drop a game on the road. The Giants officially are 2-0 in away games, though they also defeated the Packers in London in a neutral-site contest. The Jets were 2-14 away from MetLife Stadium over the previous two seasons, but they already have started the year 3-0 on the road.

Getting their Phil

The Braves and the Mets each won 101 games during the regular season, but it’s the third-place team in the NL East that is headed to the World Series.

The Phillies were the last of six teams in the National League to qualify for the postseason, but $330 million man Bryce Harper smashed a two-run homer in the eighth inning – his fifth of the postseason — to move his team ahead in the Game 5 clincher Sunday against the Padres.

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The Phillies’ $330 million man Bryce Harper powered them to the World Series in a five-game NLCS win over the Padres.

AP

San Diego manager Bob Melvin’s decision to not summon lefty reliever Josh Hader to face Harper backfired with his team’s season on the line.

Interestingly, there will be plenty of New York flavor in this Fall Classic from the Phillies’ side: They have former Mets hurlers Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard in their starting rotation and former Yankees reliever David Robertson in their bullpen.

Longtime Yankees coach Rob Thomson also took over after former Yankees manager Joe Girardi was canned with a 22-29 record on June 3. Girardi left Philadelphia with an overall losing mark of 132-141 over two-plus seasons in his first managerial gig since the Yankees let him go – after they lost to the Astros in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS. And Kevin Long is in his first season as the Phillies’ hitting coach after serving in that capacity for both the Yankees (2007-14) and the Mets (2015-17).

The peaking Phillies have enjoyed the opposite season to that of the Mets, who led the division for most of the season with Buck Showalter bringing stability at manager but faded late and got bounced in the NL wild-card round as their top-line starting pitchers faltered.

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