It’s time for a little digression into everyone’s favorite topic.
Nick writes: Let’s say the Yankees win the World Series, and Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte both retire because they are completely satisfied with their respective careers. What do the Yankees do, does Joba become a starter if Cliff Lee is a no-go (or any other free agent), or does he take over for Mo? Can he be trusted in either spot right now? Who would you like to see fill either spot?
Armin asks: Any chance the Yankees move Joba back into the rotation where a guy with at least three above-average pitches belongs? I mean, the Yankees are paying AJ Burnett 16.5 million for below-average pitching (81 ERA+). I’m pretty sure Joba could give them better pitching for less money and maybe he would get his act together like Phil Hughes did this year. It’s worth a shot, don’t you think?
Will asks: What are the chances of Joba going back in the rotation and what can we expect out of him?
Since August 2007, nobody, it seems, has inspired more debate and controversy than Joba Chamberlain. From the bullpen to the starting rotation and back, the Yankees have handled Joba with the most delicate of kids gloves, and his future is constantly in doubt. Earlier this year, as he struggled to find his form in the bullpen, I believed the Yanks should just cut their losses and trade Joba, but since the end of July, he’s been very dominant in 27.1 innings.
Yet, the future remains clouded for Joba Chamberlain. Before Spring Training, the Yankees said they still consider Chamberlain a starter, but ostensibly for his health, they opted to keep him exclusively in the bullpen this year. When the opportunity arose for Chamberlain to move into the rotation in place of Andy Pettitte, the Yanks went instead to Sergio Mitre, Dustin Moseley and later Ivan Nova. Perhaps they wanted to guard his shoulder; perhaps that’s Joba’s future.
But for 2011, the rotation could beckon. Andy Pettitte’s return is no sure thing, and Cliff Lee, while likely to end up in pinstripes, could remain in Texas. If A.J. Burnett were to continue to struggle, Joba would be a very appealing and viable option. We know what he can do in the rotation. Through 20 starts last year, he was 7-2 with a 3.58 ERA and 97 strike outs in 110.2 innings. In 2008, he sported a 2.76 ERA with 74 strike outs in 65.1 innings as a starter. He can start.
The Yankees though like his approach in the bullpen. They like his velocity, and they like his mentality. They allowed themselves to be dazzled by it in 2007 and still believe that Joba can be a key cog in the bullpen. Were Mariano Rivera to retire, Joba would be up there on the list of replacements.
Still, Joba should start. If the Yankees can coax 175 innings out of him next year as they did out of Phil Hughes this year, Chamberlain, still only 25, would be a valuable member of the Yankee rotation. His ability to start — and to get outs — would certain lessen the impact of losing Pettitte, losing out on Lee or watching A.J. Burnett struggle through whatever ails him. We certainly could expect him to be as good or better than he was in the rotation during those first 175 innings, and the Yankees should give it a shot.
Famouspj asks: What’s Kerry Wood’s situation for next year? His stock has to be pretty high after his half-year in pinstripes. Any chance he’s back in the Bronx in 2011?
The Kerry Wood Conundrum can serve as a companion piece to the Joba Chamberlain question because it’s part of a longer narrative about Mariano Rivera. If Mo were to retire, would one of these two be his likely successor? Undoubtably the answer is yes.
For the Yankees, Kerry Wood — on the team because Cashman was willing to take more salary than Theo Epstein could in Boston — has been great. In 25 innings, he has struck out 29 allowed one earned run on a home run while surrendering 14 hits and 15 walks. His ERA isn’t going to stay at 0.36 forever, but he hasn’t been fazed by high-pressure late-inning situations in the Bronx and has taken to the Yanks’ pen quite nicely.
Wood’s contract contains an $11 million club option, and unless Rivera is definitely hanging it up, the Yanks will allow the option to lapse. They could re-sign him to a lesser deal for more years, but Wood both wants to close and is an injury concern. Plus, after the Damaso Marte deal backfired while the Yanks’ young arms have done an admirably job getting outs on the cheap, Brian Cashman may be wary of re-upping with Wood for a prohibitive amount. So today, I say that the only way he’s back in the Bronx in 2011 is if Mariano is not, and that’s a future I don’t want to contemplate.