Today, Yankee GM Brian Cashman called Joba Chamberlain a "bullpen guy." The only problem is he didn't say for what team. Chamberlain, the one-time gem of Yankee pitching prospects just signed a one-year contract with the team, but now his future as a Yankee doesn't look so shiny.
On Monday, the up-and-down reliever signed a one-year deal worth $1.4 million to avoid arbitration and instead of giving him job security, it makes him valuable trade bait.
The 25 year-old Chamberlain has been shuttled between being a starter to middle or short relief--all with limited success--since being signed by the Yankees in 2007.
The "Joba Rules," designed to preserve the flamethrower's arm, ironically, could have ruined his career in pinstripes. The "rules" commanded that the young pitcher would not pitch on consecutive days and he would accrue an additional days rest after each inning pitched. It led to Chamberlain never finding a stride or a steady position.
Chamberlain comes into this year's spring training with his stock at an all time low. The Yankees bullpen is now considered one of the strongest in baseball with Dave Robertson and Pedro Feliciano being the bridge between the starters and the set-up man Soriano, who then hands the ball to closer Mariano Rivera and his indefatigable arm. There now seems to be little room for an inconsistent component like Joba.
Meanwhile, the starting rotation begins with CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett as the big three and Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre rounding out the five. If Joba stands any chance of making it on the team, it would be after battling it out with Nova and Mitre for a starter's position. If Andy Pettitte decides to pull a Favre and return for one more year, Chamberlain is pretty much the sixth wheel.
Chamberlain's versatility may have led to his downfall. The Yankees never knew where to use him. They played head games with him, and last year's attempt at using him as Rivera's set-up man was a disaster. It left the Yankees wondering about his abilities and Chamberlain doubting himself.
For every fist-pumping Chamberlain strikeout, there were too many high fives by the other team. Even his sweaty and courageous rookie relief effort in the insect-infested 2007 ALCS against the Indians turned into a loss. If his career has been anything, its been like those midges buzzing aimlessly all over that Cleveland field.
Chamberlain, who had the talent to be a starter, a set-up man or closer now seems to only mop up during routs or long lost games.
This makes the one-time phenom perfect trade bait for the Yankees to score an experienced four or five starter. His arm still has life--thanks, Joba Rules--and he'll come relatively cheap. As it stands now, Chamberlain can only wait and see if either Nova, Mitre or (not inconceivably) Burnett implodes. Otherwise he'll be accruing splinters on the bench.
It's sad to see a young talent like Chamberlain languish as a Yankee. With Soriano on deck as Rivera's most likely replacement in two years, it wouldn't help the Yankees to keep Chamberlain. A change of scenery might do the Nebraskan good, and Cashman could get the fourth starter he needs. A win-win for the Yankees and Chamberlain.