In the unlikely event that you missed it last night, the Yankees have agreed to a contract with free agent reliever Rafael Soriano. I’m not a fan of the deal at all but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead I want to rant about a member of the pitching staff directly impacted by the Soriano signing, and that’s Joba Chamberlain.
It’s pretty obvious by now that the Yankees have very little faith in Joba. If they did, they wouldn’t have bent over backwards to sign Soriano when the market for his services was non-existent. Part of that is on Joba and part of it is on the team for mishandling him so badly. I’m usually on board with most of the moves the team makes and have spent many hours defending Brian Cashman and the rest of the brain trust, but there’s no denying that they completely botched Joba’s long-term development. They were desperate for late inning relief help in 2007 because (wait for it) the last free agent reliever they signed to a multi-year deal flamed out. They just compounded the issue by refusing to send him back to the minors to get back in 2008 so that he could get back on a normal development track.
So what do they have now, they have a middle reliever with admittedly fantastic peripheral stats and zero consistency. What they don’t have is any decent help for the back of the rotation. Signing Soriano doesn’t help the rotation at all, Sergio Mitre can still stink up the first five innings just as easily as he could have before. Will they take this opportunity to move Joba back to the rotation, turning an absurd contract for a reliever into actual help for the starting staff? I doubt it, and that’s what annoys the crap out of me.
Before the Yankees started screwing around with Joba’s innings limitations in 2009, he was fantastic as a starter. The guy made 34 full starts from June 2008 through August 2009, meaning he wasn’t pulled early and was allowed to empty the tank. In those 34 starts, he had a 3.54 ERA (3.97 FIP) with 8.50 K/9, 3.84 uIBB/9, and 0.92 HR/9. Opponents had .329 wOBA off him during that time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say Joba was some kind of ace caliber starter during this time, but good grief, he was 23 years old basically the whole time. He was better and younger than Phil Hughes was in 2010. If a young kid performs like that in the AL East, you don’t stick him in the bullpen, you keep him in the rotation because at worst, he’s a mid-rotation starter. At best, he’s on his way to becoming something more.
I’m not asking for a miracle here, just give the guy a chance to start again in Spring Training. There’s basically no downside. If he gets hurt and his days as an effective pitcher come to an end, who cares? All the Yankees would be losing is a seventh inning reliever. If it works, well then geez, you’ve got yourself a young big league starter, something the team could really use right about now. It’s Spring Training, just try it. That’s all I’m asking. Just make an effort, give him the same kind of rope they gave Hughes this past year.
Now, I’m certain there are things going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about. Heck, Joba’s shoulder could be shredded for all I know. If it is, then they need to trade him as soon as possible and make it someone else’s problem. If there are concerns about his attitude and they’re worried about him getting to comfortable, then just trade him. Stringing him along in middle relief isn’t the answer. And please, all that nonsense about his stuff playing up in the bullpen … give me a break. Of course it’s true, just like it’s true for every other pitcher in the history of the universe. That’s not a good enough reason, it’s just a cop out.
If the Yankees aren’t going to put Joba in the rotation now that they have Soriano on board, I just don’t know what to say. I’m really at my wit’s end here, I just can not fathom why they’ve already ruled him out as a starter after just 34 uninterrupted starts across two seasons, especially when he pitched pretty well. Having the kid pitch 70 innings of middle relief a season is a gigantic waste of resources, but then again that’s nothing new for the Yankees. I fully acknowledge that Soriano will make the Yankees a better team in 2011 but I don’t like the terms of the contract and I certainly don’t like what’s continuing to happen with Joba. It’s a tremendous waste, and refusing to take the necessary steps to correct things only compounds the problem. I really don’t know what more to say, I feel like this same post has been written a million times in the last year or two. I just don’t get it, I’ll continue to not get it.