What's the best job for Joba?

Tim Brown
Yahoo! SportsApril 22, 2008

Three weeks in, four turns of the rotation in, 10 wins and 10 loses in and – in the most predictable event of April – we have a Steinbrenner-ian episode.

Hank Steinbrenner, Spawn of Boss and the best thing to happen to Gotham’s back pages since the ribbon cutting at Scores, cannonballed into the season with a rant that will have the Yankees’ front office de-wedging the bathing suit from its nether regions for a while.

Only “an idiot,” Steinbrenner told The New York Times, would take a talent such as Joba Chamberlain and send it out in the eighth inning, unless, of course, it had already pitched the first seven.

Mr. Brian Cashman? Phone for you.

“The mistake was already made last year switching him to the bullpen out of panic or whatever,” Steinbrenner said. “I had no say in it last year and I wouldn’t have allowed it.”

Cashman held his ground, telling Newsday, "Joba's staying in the bullpen right now," but this debate within the organization won't go away any time soon.

A few points come to mind:

Hank Steinbrenner is co-chairman of the Yankees. So, order the change, big fella. Don’t tell The Times. Tell your employees. Presumably, you’ve already confided in Cashman that you believe him to be an idiot. You wouldn’t go to the newspapers first with that, would you? I mean, that would be impolite and unprofessional. So, send Chamberlain to Triple-A, stretch him out to 100 pitches and get on with it.

So long, Mike Mussina. If this isn’t Steinbrenner’s way of completely panicking over the stumbling starts of rookies Phil Hughes (0-3, 8.82) and Ian Kennedy (0-2, 9.64) – and I happen to believe it is – then he would appear to be advocating releasing (or reassigning) Mussina and installing, uh, Kyle Farnsworth (and his big fastball) into the setup role.

And this “learn how to pitch like Jamie Moyer” comment regarding Mussina? As if it’s that easy. Moyer ought to be insulted.

So long, Joba. If Hank gets his way, it will take him two to three weeks in the minors to get his pitch counts up and gain command of the four core pitches he'll need as a starter. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ pitching staff (4.60 ERA, 12th in the American League), including its bullpen (72 2/3 innings, most in baseball), will be significantly thinned. Seriously, outside of September, this is the worst possible time for such a move, unless …

Steinbrenner really believes the standings. The Boston Red Sox are too good for the Yankees. Twenty games in, they’ve scored 19 more runs and the pitching staffs have been about the same. If it’s Steinbrenner’s plan to regroup now and make a run at the wild card over the summer, maybe this makes sense.

If Cashman is an idiot for having one of his hardest throwers in a setup role, then what does that say for GMs Ned Colletti (Jonathan Broxton), Dave Dombrowski (Joel Zumaya), Josh Byrnes (Tony Pena), Bill Bavasi (Brandon Morrow), Doug Melvin (Derrick Turnbow) and, OK, Cashman again (Kyle Farnsworth)?

While true that Chamberlain was a starter at Nebraska and in his lone professional season until his promotion to the Yankees in early August, he fell to 41st overall in the 2006 draft because of scouts’ concerns his body would not hold up under a starter’s workload. Chamberlain is a big man with violent mechanics and, despite the electric stuff, every team passed on him at least once in that draft. Cashman knows this, and that's why he's resisted the temptation – and the not-so-subtle nudge from his boss.

I contacted three American League scouts and asked: “Joba Chamberlain, starter or reliever?”

“Reliever,” said the first. “Reliever. Reliever. Reliever. And here’s why: I know a lot about the guy, in part from friends in that organization. He had a brutal medical (history) coming out of college. He slipped in that draft because people were afraid of his medical. Everybody recognized the stuff, but his medical was awful, a red flag. Therefore, you pile on a workload, it’s a huge risk. I can’t believe they haven’t told Hank – or are afraid to tell him – about this. You put him in the rotation, he blows out and Hank looks like a buffoon – a bigger buffoon. The Yankees would know he’s on borrowed time. He’s a time bomb as a starter, supposedly.”

“Bullpen,” said the second. “I just think he’s so dominant. And I’ve heard the reason he slipped in the draft was a medical red flag. If there’s a medical, why push him into more innings? Why not leave him where he is and groom him to be the closer? I mean, how many more bullets does (Mariano) Rivera have? His is a body that requires maintenance. To me, his body is similar to Jonathan Broxton’s, just not quite that big. Broxton could have started, too. What Hank said publicly, it can’t be good for morale. It’s bringing them back to the old Yankees.”

The only injury that is known to have limited Chamberlain late in his college career was to his knee, which apparently hasn’t been a huge issue since.

“Starter,” said the third scout, “with that four-pitch mix. He doesn’t utilize his secondary stuff as much and mostly uses his fastball. I think he’s become very reliant on his fastball. What people haven’t seen is the finished product, which is a four-pitch, polished guy. He could be very similar to Johan Santana, who was a very effective reliever for the Twins and then they put him in the rotation and he was able to distribute his stuff better. With Joba, we’re not seeing as many changeups or curveballs. In terms of the medicals, they all have short shelf lives anyway. I’d rather maximize their use. I’ll take the best bullet available and use it.”

It’s a wonderful debate, one in which the Yankees’ baseball people certainly have held many times. But Steinbrenner holds the hammer. I guess it was time to swing it. Wonder what he hit.