When Brian Cashman announced last week that Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes would not have significant innings limits next season, he hedged his bets on the two youngsters’ true roles. “I look at them as starters that can relieve,” Cashman said. “But I look at them as starters.”
In one sense, that characterization gives the Yanks some flexibility. They know for a fact that Phil Hughes can be a lockdown reliever, and they believe he can be a dominant starter. They know for a fact that Joba Chamberlain can be a lockdown reliever, and they know that he can be a dominant starter. If knowing, as they say, is half the battle, well, then the Yankees are halfway there.
This flexibility gives them the opportunity to take a wait-and-see approach to this winter’s pitching market. They have CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett inked in to the top two slots and will likely enjoy the services of Andy Pettitte as well. Behind those three await some combination of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Chad Gaudin and Ian Kennedy with Al Aceves, Sergio Mitre and Chien-Ming Wang as potential options as well. John Lackey is out there; Roy Halladay is out there; Ben Sheets is out there. Any addition would be icing on the depth chake.
With this plethora of pitching comes some uncertainty though. Talking to reporters last night as his Wrap to Rap charity event, Joba noted that his role for 2010 remains undefined. Here’s how MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo put it:
As for Chamberlain, the Yankees have not yet told him whether he should prepare as a starting pitcher or a reliever. With Spring Training still three months away, Chamberlain has not even begun working out again, much less throwing…
By the time the postseason rolled around, the Yankees had decided to proceed with a three-man rotation, thereby relegating Chamberlain back to the bullpen. And his future remains unclear. The only hints he has received have come from general manager Brian Cashman, who said last week that he envisioned both Chamberlain and Phil Hughes as starters — but starters who are capable of relieving. “So he didn’t really answer the question,” Chamberlain cracked.
In a way, this is a spurious extrapolation by DiComo. The Yankees remained committed to Joba the starter throughout the 2009 season, and despite a late-season slide — possibly brought about by inconsistent rules — Joba met expectations. He stayed healthy throughout the season and made his starts to greater or lesser degrees of success.
The postseason, though, has a funny way of clouding perception. Although Joba’s overall October numbers were in line with his season totals, the eyes can tell a slightly different story. During the AL playoff rounds and World Series, Joba was indeed throwing a tick harder. During the playoffs, he averaged around 94/95 and dialed it up to 97/98, up a few miles per hour over his season numbers. That difference can turn Joba from an above-average pitcher to an elite one, and although he doesn’t have to sustain that velocity over the course of 34 starts, that it disappeared this year after it was there for 2008 led to a few questions this season.
In the end, as I mentioned in the comments to Joe’s post on Ben Sheets, Joba’s role may very well depend upon how the Yanks’ off-season unfolds. If the pitcher depth is there for the Yanks, they have the luxury of knowing that Joba (and Phil) can succeed in the bullpen, but on the depth charts, Joba probably has an edge for a rotation spot over Phil simply because he has the innings, experience and success under his belt.
In the meantime, Joba doesn’t mind the uncertainty. “It’s a great problem to have for Phil and myself,” he said. “We’ve been in situations and there’s a lot of things we can be. I think it’s an advantage for our team that there are so many different options to make us better for 2010.”
I believe Joba is a starter and should spend the off-season preparing as such. He doesn’t really need Brian Cashman to come out and say it, but we know it. When all is said and done, 2010 will seen Joba in the rotation, and the Yanks are better off for it.