New York Yankees Brian Cashman's message to pitcher Joba Chamberlain wasn't exactly a sweet, rose-colored valentine card the day before the team opens spring training tomorrow in Tampa. It sounded more like a pink slip.
The Yankees GM said the right-hander could possibly be in the team's 2011 bullpen but wouldn't guarantee that Chamberlain would even play at Yankee Stadium.
Chamberlain, who showed up last week at the minor-league complex weighing about 30 pounds heavier than last season, has his work cut out for himself.
After three years of being pushed and shoved in the starter/reliever debate, Chamberlain headed into this year's camp looking like a valuable commodity. Now he looks like either an extra middle-reliever, Triple-A call-up or trade bait. It can't be good for his confidence.
In 2007, Chamberlain was the wonder boy of the Yankees staff. He had a murderous fastball and a slider which brought batters to their knees. Three years of being babied by the 'Joba Rules', shuttled between starter and reliever and mind-game expectations have messed up the head. Now he shows up with the additional poundage and as much job security as Hosni Mubarak. Another "fat toad" in the making?
Most fans expected Chamberlain to be the heir apparent to closer Mariano Rivera, or at least the eigth-inning set-up man by now. That hasn't been and won't be the case this year. The Yankees signing of Rafael Soriano for three years and $35 million squashed that scenario.
Chamberlain could still prove everyone wrong. Maybe the gym in his basement and the extra muscle on his body will rejuvenate the 25 year-old? Maybe the shoulder he injured in 2008 as a starter has healed?
Since that injury, Chamberlain has had his ups and downs. In 240 1/3 innings, he has allowed 249 hits with an ERA of 4.53. He struck out 224 and walked 101. There are a lot more worse pitchers in the majors. Too bad for Chamberlain, they are not in the Yankees pen.
Now that Phil Hughes has secured the No. 2 spot in the Yankees starting rotation, Chamberlain won't have to play that tired game anymore. For now he gets to battle David Robertson as the go-to rightie in the bullpen. And Robertson has been good.
Chamberlain still has value as trade bait. He is young and his one-year $1.4 million contract with the team is inviting to teams missing a piece to a winning team and don't want to break the bank.
As it stands, it looks like Chamberlain, who has three minor-league options remaining, will look for a spot in the bullpen if he has a good spring.
"We won't decide, he will decide his role," said Cashman. "Players always dictate [from their performance]."
Chamberlain can only pitch well then wait and see how Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova fare in the battle for the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the starting rotation. If one of them isn't in the rotation, it probably means Chamberlain will be pushed out of the bullpen and could be headed out of Yankee Stadium.