The Chicago Cubs are looking for at least one veteran relief pitcher to add to their bullpen this offseason. They were connected to Edward Mujica, who has since signed with the Boston Red Sox. There have been rumors connecting the Cubs to John Axford, who was non-tendered by the St. Louis Cardinals, but could make some sense for Chicago.
The Cubs have also been connected to former top New York Yankees prospect Joba Chamberlain, who could make the most sense for this team at 28-years-old.
With established closers like Brian Wilson and Joe Nathan off the market, there really is not much left in free agency when it comes to bullpen arms. Guys like Axford, Grant Balfour and Francisco Rodriguez would certainly be interesting, but his age and once dominance makes me feel like Chamberlain would be the best fit with the Cubs.
Chamberlain burst on to the scene late in the 2007 season. The talented right-hander pitched 24 innings in 19 appearances for New York in 2007 . He finished with a minuscule ERA of 0.38 and an incredible 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. While he was fantastic in his first season, it was a really small sample size. Chamberlain continued to pitch well in 2008, where he posted a 2.60 ERA with 10.6 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9.
In June of 2008, the Yankees tried Chamberlain out in rotation and received mixed results before they moved him back to the bullpen for the stretch run. He pitched as a starter for all of 2009 and struggled. The Yankees moved him back to the bullpen after that failed experiment, but he has never become the dominant reliever that he once was.
You can easily use injuries (Tommy John Surgery and a badly dislocated ankle) to explain Chamberlain’s recent struggles. Simply put, he has not been able to stay on the field much for the past few seasons. You could also point to his rapidly declining ground ball rate throughout his career to explain why he gives up so many home runs.
Pitching at Yankee Stadium is not easy for a guy who cannot keep the ball on the ground, and as you can expect, his road numbers (.756 OPS against in 2013) are much better than his home numbers (.878).
Cubs’ pitching coach Chris Bosio has had a ton of success with the Cubs. His specialty has been getting pitchers to keep the ball down and get ground ball outs. I think letting Bosio work with Chamberlain and simply getting him out of New York and Yankee Stadium is more than enough to think that he could turn his career around in Chicago.
The fact that he is just entering his prime years at 28-years-old makes him a legitimate possible addition to the young core that the team is building. The Cubs are looking for a reliever anyway — it might as well be one with past success and playoff experience that could help the team down the line.