Mailbag: Joba’s and Wood’s futures

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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.

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  • Ted Nelson

    Really enjoying all these answers to very relevant questions today! Good work, guys. Definitely some of the most interesting questions looking to the offseason and beyond.

  • http://twitter.com/biebrichbeats ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

    “His ERA isn’t going to stay at 0.36 forever”

    Wood has a 1216 ERA+ while with the Yankees, Joba was 1221 in 2007. Amazing numbers.

    • ROBTEN

      “His ERA isn’t going to stay at 0.36 forever”

      Let’s dance in style,
      Let’s dance for a while,
      Heaven can wait we’re only watching the skies
      Hoping for the best but expecting the worst,
      Are you gonna drop the bomb or not?

      • FIPster Doofus

        ietc

  • Gmat2

    Big fan of the mailbag entries. Great questions, great answers.

  • Ted Nelson

    “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.”

    Part of me expects this, but his up-and-down season from the bullpen makes me question it a bit…

    “The Kerry Wood Conundrum”

    Seems like the best way to put it…

  • jim p

    Truism: Successful pitchers play off their fastball.

    2009: Hughes, so-so as a starter moves to the bullpen. His fastball goes back up to hi-speed, as we had heard he had, and he learned to locate it.

    2010: Hughes, able to throw a fastball with control, is obviously pegged as a starter, despite the Spring “competition.” Joba moves to the bullpen. His fastball gets back up in the mid-hi-90s, and he has learned to control it (though I don’t think as well as Hughes, but still…).

    Conclusion: Joba starts in 2011 if there is a spot in the rotation for him.

    • Ted Nelson

      Would be nice…

      • All Praise Be To Mo

        I agree, can always dream. At least on my Yankees team on the PS3, Joba and Hughes are my 2 aces leading the way.

    • Pete
    • The Big City of Dreams

      Meaning more than likely there won’t be a spot for him. Can Andy really retire off of this yr?

  • tc

    Watching Hughes’s last outing, however it happened I am not sure, but his pitch mixing was superb. Absolutely superb. Posada was calling the game, maybe he gets some credit. Anyway, my point is this: if Hughes and Joba can consistently show up with that kind of excellent pitch mixing AND get better at hitting their spots, I believe they can both be dominant and push Burnett to a #4 spot. That’s a big IF obviously, but I think we’d all be happy campers if it happened, especially if we don’t get Cliff Lee, which is a long shot now that Texas is rolling in dough!

    • Andrew

      Posada was calling the game, maybe he gets some credit.

      You mean the most overrated player in the history of baseball? No chance whatsoever, it was just Hughes having a higher baseball IQ than Mr. Overrated back there.

      And going back to Joba, I think the Yankees would be more likely to take a chance on putting him back in the rotation if they had Lee locked up and then found out Andy was to retire. Then you have CC, Lee and Hughes as pretty well-established quality starters, Burnett hanging around like a stale fart that may or may not improve in smell quality given a little time and space, plus Joba as the 5th starter re-deploying all 4 of his pitches and hopefully having a 2010 Hughes type season.

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        I laughed.

  • Guest

    I feel like the Kerry Wood Conundrum is analagous to the situation where two people, each coming of bad break-ups, decide to be each other’s “rebound hook-up.” They both aren’t ready to jump into a new commitment, but their brief fling helps both of them out in the short term. Then, they amicably go their seperate ways.

    The Yankees were hurting in middle relief around the all-star break (thanks, in no small part to poor performances by pitchers who have since picked things up. Kerry Wood was a fading talent, beset by the “can’t stay healthy” label.

    And then they found each other. The Yankees got a couple of months of excellent relief pithcing with the promise of potentially a post-season of excellent relief pitching from Wood. Wood got an opportunity to showcase his wares to the rest of the big leagues and prove he can still get big outs during a penant race.

    But the Yankees can’t possibly commit to him for big bucks and big dollars (unless they know Rivera is leaving, in which case, it’s still not a slam dunk). Wood would be out of his mind to take less money for less years from the Yanks than he could elsewhere (especially if Mo stays meaning Wood won’t close).

    They had a wonderful tryst. Hopefully it will continue to be wonderful for another month/month plus. At that time, both parties should say “Thanks, that was fun” and move on to their next partners.

    • Ted Nelson

      Overall the analogy works pretty well… I don’t know that the conclusion is that cut and dry, though. Maybe a team feels confident enough in Woods that he can close and stay healthy to give him big bucks long-term, but there’s got to be a discount for the uncertainty, injury history… it comes down to how much of one. I don’t have a feel for every team’s closing situation going forward, but there’s got to be a chance that Wood doesn’t get a guaranteed closing role. At some point he might not be crazy to take a marginal pay-cut to be a set-up guy for the Yankees and win games rather than be the closer on some awful team… especially with the Yankees closer position likely to open sooner than later.

      This also sort of assumes some things on the Yankees side… maybe they want Joba to be a starter and maybe they like Wood as a replacement for Mo after a one year deal (which also assumes Mo wants to pitch one more year)… Probably they split up, but I think there’s a chance it’s in both parties best interest not to.

  • ledavidisrael

    the Yankees have handled Joba with the most delicate of kids gloves

    REALLY????

    Verducci doesn’t agree
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.c.....index.html

    and I don’t.

    His first year with the team the most he had thrown was 118 IP at Nebraska and in his first year he threw 108 PROFESSIONAL innings. That does not equate. College ball is not the same level of difficulty as minor league innings. That has to be factored in.

    The team have handled him moderatly, far from wearing the most delicate gloves.

    • Mike HC

      Joba is basically a case study on how not to handle a young, talented starting pitcher. The Yanks somehow managed to both overwork him and underwork him all at the same time. Thankfully they learned from their mistakes and did not repeat them with Hughes.

      • Ted Nelson

        I think this may be overstated. People assume that another way of handling Joba would have turned out better, which is not assured.

        They did a pretty similar thing with Hughes, actually. They bounced him out to the bullpen. He had 51 MLB appearances last season and only 7 starts. Then they brought him back to the rotation this season, as they did with Joba last season. Hughes got his crap together and had a really good season. Joba trailed off down the stretch last season and has been inconsistent this season. If he gets back in the rotation in 2011 it’ll be pretty similar to Hughes… and a case study in how to move a young ace back and forth between the pen and rotation while keeping his innings down and getting his stuff together.

        • Mike HC

          I may have overstated it, because Wood and Prior are the true case studies in what not to do. I also think Hughes and Joba are two different cases. They had a completely different minor league history, had a completely different introduction to the major leagues, and were treated differently in terms of how to limit innings.

        • The Big City of Dreams

          “Joba trailed off down the stretch last season and has been inconsistent this season.”

          Joba trailed off down the stretch last season because that’s when they implemented the Joba Rules. The kid came out of the break pitching like a young ace until they gave him that long lay off. After that came starts on normal rest, long rest, and of course short relief starts.

          What they did with Hughes is not similar. Last yr with Joba the rules seemed to change on the drop of a dime. This yr with Hughes there seemed to be more order to how they planned to handle him.

    • Ted Nelson

      I think this is a good point. If the Yankees had continued to ride Joba well beyond innings limits and tore his arm to shreds… that would be a much worse thing than not giving him enough innings given the other options they have. Especially as his effectiveness eroded late last season and for a good part of this season. People would both be calling for Joba’s head for ineffective starts and the org’s head for riding him too hard. The approach they have taken may prove the lesser of two evils.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        The problem is not protecting his arm and capping his innings. The problem is the way they went about it. The thing was turned into a circus act. Hey Joba you can go out there and pitch but can’t get wins because we’re going to pull you in the 3rd inning. That’s what the kid was dealing with the last couple of months in the season

    • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

      He threw 118 IP, then he threw 126.2 IP the following year (89 at Nebraska, 37.2 in winter ball)

      College: 118 IP
      College: 126.2
      First year: 88 MiL IP + 24 ML IP = 112
      Second year: 100 IP
      Third year: 157 IP

      • Ted Nelson

        I don’t think this proves they handled him too delicately if that’s what you’re saying… Hughes IP numbers don’t look dissimilar before this season.

        • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

          That’s not what I’m saying, I’m just putting out the correct innings number.

          I don’t believe they abused him, I just don’t think they knew how to handle him. They wanted him to develop, but also wanted him for the playoffs. Most other teams would just have started him and shut him down when he reached his limit.

  • Ross

    Is it possible the Yanks offer Wood arbitration? Not sure if he qualifies as an A or B, but if he does, what’s so bad about giving it a shot? If he wants more years then maybe he turns it down anyway. If not, maybe they can trade him.

    • Jose the Satirist

      He projects to be a Type B free agent. He is making $10,500,000 this year. No way you can offer him arbitration.

      • All Praise Be To Mo

        Why not? Offer him arb, if he declines we get a free pick, if he accepts, trade him to another team like the Braves did Soriano. A lot of teams would take Wood on a 1 year deal for 10 mil.

        • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

          A lot of teams would take Wood on a 1 year deal for 10 mil.

          Doubtful. The Yankees would have to eat a decent chunk of the $10 million.

          • All Praise Be To Mo

            Why doubtful? Papel-clown will make more than that and he’ll be on the market, Wood has better stats, shown he can close, and only a 1 year commitment, Soriano had 9 mil coming to him as an unproven closer. I think we can easily get a B-/C+ prospect for Wood if he accepts arb without having to pickup any salary.

            • Jose the Satirist

              “I think we can easily get a B-/C+ prospect for Wood if he accepts arb without having to pickup any salary.”

              Good luck with that shit.

            • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

              Soriano did have 27 saves last year.
              Wood has a BB9 of 5 over the last 2 seasons with FIP and xFIP over 4, and we all know his injury history.

              No non-contending team wants him, and what contending team has the room and salary space for him?

              • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

                The Sox had a big need for him this year and wouldn’t pay $500k for two months ($1.5 million prorated) and they have deeeeeep pockets.

                • Jose the Satirist

                  Just another example of the money grubbing Yankees outspending a small market team.

              • Peter S

                Mets? If K-Rod ends up behind bars.

                • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

                  Yes, because their biggest issue is not having a 10m closer.

        • Jose the Satirist

          If they offered arbitration he would make more than what he is currently making. It would be north of $11,000,000 and Wood wouldn’t make anywhere near that much as a free agent. He would almost certainly accept arbitration and the Yankees would have to eat a lot of salary.

          • All Praise Be To Mo

            If we tell him he’ll never close and never make that much again he won’t accept, be the same case as Wagner with the Red Sox, wanting to close and the security of a multi-year deal he left.

            • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

              He’ll accept. Wagner was going to pitch for one more year and wanted to close (and possibly in his mind boost his HOF credentials).

  • mike c

    signing mo > soriano > wood

  • nsalem

    If Andy is healthy it would be an extremely long shot that he would
    retiring after this season.

  • Peter S

    but he hasn’t been phased by high-pressure late-inning situations in the Bronx

    ==

    Isn’t it “fazed” ?

    • jim p

      There’s something about the internet which is inclining people, more and more, to typing homonyms for what they mean. Just been noticing that lately.

  • Pharryn

    There is NO way that Joba could succeed as Mo’s replacement. The guy I see in that position is Brackman (in 2-3 years).

    • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

      So there’s NO way Joba can do it, but you say the guy who’s 24 and in AAA can?

    • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

      You’re already sticking Brackmania in the bullpen? Why?