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Masahiro Tanaka's looming opt-out shades Yankees' pitching plans

To understand why the New York Yankees may end up being the free-agent winners for someone like left-hander Rich Hill, it is best to hop in the DeLorean, pump it up to 88 mph and fast-forward to a year from now.

At that time, Masahiro Tanaka will most certainly be a dilemma for the Yankees. If Tanaka repeats his 14-4, 3.07 ERA season, he most assuredly will opt out or threaten to opt out, leveraging a clause in Year 4 of his seven-year, $155 million contract. If Tanaka struggles in 2017 or, worse, is severely injured, then he likely would stay on to finish out the final three seasons of his deal.

Either way, the Yankees will be at the mercy of Tanaka's success or failure. So that little nugget shades any free-agent or trade talks the Yankees are having as the hot stove heats up.

As of this moment, the Yankees have no other proven veterans signed past 2017. Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia are free agents after this upcoming season. Luis Severino took a huge step backward last year. Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa and Chad Green have a total of 25 starts between them. Adam Warren has proved to be better as a swingman than a regular starter.

For 2017, that does not appear to be a division-winning staff. That is why Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has repeatedly said his main focus is on adding pitching this winter.

There are still different ways to attack the problem. Cashman, facing the same issue last year, tried to go after it backward, adding Aroldis Chapman to Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. It proved to be the right strategy to make the World Series, but, unfortunately for the Yankees, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians were the ones actually using it in October.

The Yankees do have interest in a reunion with Chapman, who was traded to the Cubs in July. Chapman may end up with a contract just like the one they unloaded when they traded Brian McCann -- somewhere around five years and $85 million.

Personally, I wouldn't give Chapman that type of length and dollars because, as Buster Olney wrote the other day, Chapman's velocity figures to diminish over the life of his the contract. He will enter his 30s during the contract and, to me, the risk of injury or diminished ability makes the layout too much.

Chapman would bring the excitement -- for the time being -- of his 100-plus mph fastball. It would allow the Yankees to shorten the game with Betances and Chapman as an intimidating combo.

In this scenario, it would not be surprising if the Yankees try to use Betances in more of the fashion that the Indians used Miller during the playoffs. In the regular season, a team probably couldn't do it to the extent the Indians leveraged Miller, but there is room to make Betances' presence more based on facing the other teams' best hitters than assigned to a specific inning.

The Yankees will have other choices in the bullpen. They could sign either Mark Melancon or Kenley Jansen. Melancon, like Chapman, would not cost the Yankees a draft pick because he was traded during last season. Because of the draft-pick compensation, I have my doubts the Yankees would go for Jansen.

On the starting front, the pickings are slim. After Hill, there isn't much, as the Yankees don't figure to reunite with Ivan Nova, and the other choices are not even as good.

Cashman likely will turn to the trade market, but he is not going to acquire any aces there, either. The Yankees could go get Chris Sale, but Cashman, in every utterance, has made it clear he doesn't want to use his new farm system haul for someone like Sale, whom the GM described as a finishing piece.

Right now, the Yankees' starting pitching is a little in no man's land. Severino's development continues to be of utmost importance. If he, Cessa, Mitchell or Green can become legit starters, it would give the Yankees a little something to build around.

If not, Tanaka -- who will be 29 at this time next season -- could have supreme leverage over the Yankees. He probably will, no matter what happens.