Most of what one hears when listening to New York Yankees coverage is the question of whether phenom Joba Chamberlain is going to end up in the bullpen or in the starting rotation in 2008. This chatter mainly has to do with what will be best for the 2008 Yankees.
But what about the 2009 Yankees? The 2010 Yankees? The 2020 Yankees?
Why look ahead to 2020?
Well, let us remember 1996.
A young Mariano Rivera quickly made a name for himself as the dominant set-up man in the AL.
A starter in the minor leagues, Rivera was called up to the Yankees in 1995 for some extra pitching depth. After starting, he worked in long relief, slowly but surely gaining the trust of manager Joe Torre.
He gradually worked his way up to being the primary set-up guy to closer John Wetteland. Even after helping the Yanks win the 1996 World Series, Rolaids Relief Man Award winner Wetteland and the Yankees knew that Johnny could find work elsewhere since Rivera would be the closer of the future.
Now it is 2008. Rivera is 38 years old. He is signed to be the Yankee closer through age 40.
In 2007, Mo had his highest ERA since becoming a closer and his lowest amount of saves since 2002. He is still amongst the league’s best, but clearly not the same dominant force he once was.
Part of this decline is due to age, and part is due to the amount of work he has had because of shoddy set-up men pitching before him.
The one name that does not give Yankee fans ajada is Joba Chamberlain. Joba posted a 0.38 ERA in 19 regular season appearances out of the bullpen for the Yankees last season.
His blazing fastball and hard slider helped propel the Yankees from their first playoff absence in over a decade to, well, another first round absence.
Nobody knows if Rivera can stay healthy for the next three seasons, but Yankee fans do know that they cannot trust Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins to safely get the ball to Mo in 2008.
A 1-2 punch of Joba and Mo would have opposing knees shaking in the eighth and ninth innings and also limit the amount of times new manager Joe Girardi would have to rely on Farnsworth, Hawkins, and the rest of the little yellow bus known as the Yankee bullpen sans Rivera and Joba.
The duo of Joba and Mo would be able to go head to head with any other American League duo, including the Bston Red Sox’ Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon.
Using Joba in the eighth would also cause a chain reaction of other relievers being worked less and the starters being worked less.
This would be especially helpful considering the rotation will likely include two youngsters, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, as well as aging vets Mike Mussina and the HGH-less Andy Pettitte.
Assuming that Chien-Ming Wang continues to be dominant and Hughes and Kennedy are all they are cracked up to be, the Yankees would have a strong trio of young pitchers for the next decade and beyond.
Sure, Chamberlain would be a great person to make that trio a quartet, but the Yankees would then have absolutely zero idea of who could fill the void in the bullpen.
Even if Mo is dominant over the next three seasons, a 25-year-old Joba Chamberlain coming into the game in the ninth inning is something this baseball fan would put money on for the next ten years.
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