The Yankees' absence from the 2008 MLB playoffs has left a sour taste in many a Yankee fan's mouth. The off-season has brought some hope back to the Bronx though, but with that hope comes the burden of heavy expectations; expectations which will fall squarely on the shoulders of the Yankees' now loaded pitching staff.
Unlike last season, the Yankees shouldn't be scrambling for no name starting pitchers from the minors. Wang will be back healthy at the start of the season, and if he can stay healthy and return to his form of early 2008, he will be one of the most dominant starters in the league. With the free agent signings of CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett, as well as the recent re-signing of Andy Pettitte to a new one year deal, the former Achilles heel of the Bronx Bombers now becomes an intimidating strength.
Now let's take a look at that Yankee staff more closely. We'll likely get CC and Wang at the top of the rotation, followed by Burnett, Pettitte, and Joba. Yankees management has said that they wouldn't be averse to using a six-man rotation in order to keep Joba rested, which would likely mean either Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy will join Joba at the tail end of the rotation. The Yankees have also stated that they are committed to keeping Joba as a starter in their rotation. My question is: Why?
Joba Chamberlain was one of the most dominant relievers in the majors in 2007, posting a .38 ERA in 19 appearances, mostly down the stretch of their run to the playoffs. He was virtually unhittable before facing Cleveland in the ALDS, and even then he only gave up one earned run in conditions that arguably should've postponed the end of the game. The Yankee bullpen was one of their weaknesses in last year's campaign, and it has yet to be addressed this off-season. Coupled with the fact that the legendary Mariano Rivera is aging and only has a few good years left, would be good cause to consider putting Joba back in the bullpen.
He could resume the setup role where he was so dominant, and then move into the closers role once Rivera retires, a tactic which worked quite well when Rivera himself worked the setup spot behind John Wetteland. Also take into account the Yankees already have a solid four man start to their rotation, and they can easily fill in the fifth spot with Kennedy or Hughes, or even let them both have a spot and make it a six man rotation. Bottom line is, it's something worth serious consideration, and the Yankees certainly shouldn't rule out a return to the bullpen for Joba Chamberlain.