Joba Chamberlain re-ignites the starter/reliever debate…my thoughts

New York Yankees' Chamberlain loosens up before throwing in the bullpen during an early morning workout at the team's spring training complex in Tampa

Here we go again.

Remember the old Joba Chamberlain debate? Starter or reliever? It’s been a while since we last talked about that, but get ready because Joba re-ignited it up today.

“This is probably going to spark a bunch of stuff and (Yankees PR director Jason) Zillo is going to be mad at me, but it’s one of those things where it’s like, do you think you have the capability to start? Yes,” Joba told Mark Feinsand of the NY Daily News. “Do I have four pitches that I can throw for a strike? Yes. Do I have two plus pitches in the bullpen that I can throw at any time? Yes.

“I guess I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too. I feel like I’m good enough to do both. I’ve proven that I can do both. Whatever it is, if I close, I want to be one or the other. I’ve been in the role of in the bullpen for a while, but am I confident that if I got the chance to start again somewhere – wherever that’s at – I could do it? Without a doubt. I just have to focus on this year and what I can do to improve to help this team win, continue to try to win ballgames for them.”

The thing is that this has been beaten to death. It’s no fun anymore. Of course the Yankees made a mistake moving Joba out of the rotation and it’s probably too late to do anything about it now.

Joba was extremely young when he was put on the mound by the Yankees and he did well for himself too. Despite being just 22-years-old at the time, Joba posted a 4.18 ERA and a 8.4 K/9 as a starter. This while he was being jerked around with two and three inning starts designed to protect his arm too (the infamous Joba Rules, obviously)

The Yankees thought that he was capable of more as a reliever though, perhaps tantalized by the 0.38 ERA he had in his first 24 innings out of the pen. They gave up on a promising young 23-year-old after just 43 starts (if you can even call those artificially shortened appearances starts).

He would never replicate that success again though. While he hasn’t been a bad reliever, he has just a 3.18 ERA and a good 10.0 K/9 and 3.67 K/BB, that certainly isn’t good enough to justify pulling the plug on Joba-the-starter so quickly. Looking back, I really wish the Yankees hadn’t given up on him so quickly. They panicked because of an injury history. Well, they moved him to the pen and he got hurt anyway. So much for that.

The problem is that it’s too late now. The Yankees have their rotation pretty much set and are counting on Joba to come out of the bullpen. Moving him to the rotation now is not going to be a huge upgrade and certainly wouldn’t make up for his absence in a bullpen that has been constructed around him (even though David Robertson has surpassed him on the bullpen depth chart). So it seems highly unlikely that, barring a major injury, the Yankees would even consider such a move now.

My only hope is that this does not kill the Yankees chances for re-signing him at the end of the year. If he really wants to start, he should have spoken up a few years ago. Instead, he was quiet and now it’s too late. But, he’ll have no problem at all finding a team looking to give him a shot in their rotation next year.

I mean, just look at some of the contracts handed to starters this offseason: Three-years and $25 million to Jeremy Guthrie, two-years and $15 million to Joe Blanton, and two-years and $14 million to Francisco Liriano (shoulder issues and all). If teams are willing to take such a gamble on bums like them it seems likely that somebody would give Joba a chance.

Looking at the names I just listed, it’s not surprise that Joba wants to be a starter either. It’s a much more lucrative job. Just look at him compared to Phil Hughes. At one point they basically made the same amount of money, but Hughes’ salary has recently shot up while Joba’s, with the help of various injuries, has remained stagnant. Currently Hughes earns $5.275 million more than Joba and, while both are millionaires, you’d better believe that Joba looks at Hughes he sees what might have been financially.

Now, a year away from free agency, a year removed from scrubs getting huge multi-year deals, Joba is looking to become a starter again. Debate on!

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6 Responses to Joba Chamberlain re-ignites the starter/reliever debate…my thoughts

  1. Mike says:

    I've said elsewhere, he should sign a low-base contract that guarantees he gets to start. Say 2 year $10 million. He would have performance bonuses for every 5 games pitched after 30 games (say $500,000). So if a team put him in the pen, and he pitched in 65 games, he would get an additional $3.5 million on top of the $5 million base. Some teams may be willing to pay him that much out of the pen, but they would have the incentive to start him and save that money. This gives Joba the chance to prove himself as a starter, and sign a bigger deal after the two years.

  2. klaus says:

    Sounds like Joba, or his agent, positioning himself for contract talks next winter.

  3. Clay says:

    Yankees messed him up. Give him a chance to start. He seems to have matured as a person (more grounded, relaxed and grown up). Got a feeling he could become a decent #3 or #4 starter.

  4. hotdog says:

    Joba looked out of his element as a starter…he's gained a couple years of maturity and maybe he handles it better…i would give Joba the option to start…on the other hand he's a better bet as a reliever and right now the Yankees need to lock down innings 7-9 if they want to make a playoff run…with the offensive losing runs, they can't afford to have a middle of the road bullpen…i'd prefer to see David Phelps as a starter over Joba if that's ever a consideration…

  5. Tanned Tom says:

    I like the idea of Chamberlain as a starter, his one year was really not too bad and then the club handed that spot to Hughes. Big mistake. Hughes is really just a 5th starter type, whereas Chamberlain, if he's matured, still has the higher ceiling. With Kuroda and Pettitte possibly retiring after this year, and Nova and Phelps still unproven, there might very well be room in the rotation. And if the $189 mm payroll hoo-hah is to be believed, Hughes might price himself out of the Bronx with another middling year.

  6. hotdog says:

    now that Joba's all but gone, i'm thinking maybe someone else gives him a chance to start…tough transition at this point though but it could be done…