Though the Yankees made us wait through over a month of Spring Training before deciding on their fifth starter, it appears that the decision had been made before the players even arrived at camp. We had seen reports during most of February and March proclaiming Phil Hughes’s advantage, and that he would have to bomb in order to lose the job. Many of us, I think, didn’t want to believe it at the time. Why go through a year of restricting Joba’s innings and not give him a chance to pitch without limits? Reports this morning suggest that we’ll never get to answer that question.
It starts with Joba’s role on the 2010 team. The Yankees have played lip service to the notion that Joba could open the season in AAA to keep his arm stretched out, but again that doesn’t appear to have ever been a real option. Chamberlain’s job is pretty much guaranteed, in that he’ll pitch out of the bullpen. Whether he locks down the primary setup role remains to be seen, though I’m sure he’ll get every chance to prove he can handle the high leverage situations. In terms of playing for this year, that kind of usage makes sense.
This morning we learned a bit more about the Yankees’ plans. Steve S at TYU points to an interview with pro scouting director Billy Eppler, who said that while Joba could be a starter, he’ll be a reliever not only now, but in the future as well. “Yeah — in the here and now, I don’t feel I don’t foresee any situation. I mean, obviously that’s for Brian and Joe, but but I don’t think they foresee a situation where he would go into the rotation. He is going to be a reliever.” When asked if we’ll see the situation arise again next year, Eppler said that he “wouldn’t consider that likely.”
As Marc Carig reports, pitching coach Dave Eiland backs up Eppler. While he wouldn’t explicitly commit to this being a permanent move, he pretty much said it. “He’s in the bullpen, and he’s there to stay, period,” said Eiland. He did make it clear that there will be no stretching out of Joba’s arm should the Yankees need another starter mid-season. It appears Sergio Mitre and Al Aceves will be starters Nos. 6 and 7. With Chad Gaudin gone, it appears the Yankees’ depth has thinned considerably in the last week.
In regards to Joba’s role, I just wish they had given him a lengthy shot to prove he can start. But while I’m disappointed that they didn’t, obviously they believe that they can get more out of him as a reliever. In terms of 2010 the Yanks will certainly benefit. Joba will be another piece in a solid looking bullpen that will save plenty of games for the starters. In terms of 2011 and beyond, it means the Yankees probably have to go overpay for another starter, something Brian Cashman said he wanted to avoid. The plan, I guess, is to worry about that when the situation arises.