Joba Chamberlain and the New York Yankees have been down this road before. No Yankees fan has forgotten the “Joba Rules” and the controversy they entailed. Then, there was the starter vs. reliever controversy, which the Yankees laid to rest by leaving Joba in the bullpen, where he has seen some success but hasn’t been able to live up to the hype that surrounded him when he made his debut in 2007.
The 27-year-old recently volunteered his thoughts to the media on what role he would like to have, either with the Yankees or another team. He knows he will be a free agent at the end of the season. He knows bullpen arms don’t get paid nearly as much as starting pitchers do on the open market, even if you are a closer. Why wouldn’t he want to return to starting?
In 43 games as starter, Joba went 12-7 with a 4.18 ERA, amassing 221.2 innings, compiling 206 strikeouts and walking 101. As a reliever, his ERA is literally one run better at 3.18 over 172 appearances. His peripheral numbers, like his K/BB ratio, all look better as a reliever but they do in just about every instance, so Joba isn’t an outlier in that department.
The Yankees gave up on the Joba starting experiment after only one and a half seasons. During the 2009 season, Joba made 31 starts, posting a 9-6 record and 4.75 ERA. By the next season, he was put in the bullpen. There was never a really good explanation as to why Chamberlain was put in the bullpen as opposed to being allowed to start. The Yankees didn’t give up on Phil Hughes and put him in the pen. They aren’t giving up on Ivan Nova and putting him in the bullpen.
The Yankees don’t necessarily need bullpen arms right now. They have Mariano Rivera at closer, David Robertson, David Aardsma and just acquired Shawn Kelley. There is also Mark Montgomery, who is quickly rising through the system and should make his MLB debut this year. The Yankees aren’t in desperate need of relievers. They are, however, in need of starting pitchers.
Yes, the Yankees have C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Andy Pettitte and Adam Warren. Yes, there are only five slots for seven guys and four of those spots are going to Sabathia, Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes. However, Pettitte is 40 and coming off of a broken ankle. Kuroda is 38. Sabathia is coming off of bone chips being removed from his elbow. Hughes is already dealing with back issues. Warren has one game of MLB experience under his belt and doesn’t possess overwhelming stuff. The top starting pitching prospects are all coming off of major injuries (Manny Banuelos) or were ineffective last season (Dellin Betances).
Hughes, like Joba, is about to become a free agent next season along with Pettitte and Kuroda. The Yankees say they want to get their payroll under $189 million next season, but they will have to re-sign or replace three of their starting pitchers. It makes little sense. Instead, they will keep Joba in the bullpen and allow him to leave to pursue his dreams elsewhere.