It may just be me, but I feel like I have seen this before. A young, home-grown, phenom reliever is converted from a starter to set up for an aging All-Star caliber closer.
Sounds a little like 1996, doesn’t it?
While I am by no means ready to push Mariano out the door, there is no denying that this future Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest closer of all time—while still one of the best in the league—is nearing the end.
Last season, he had the highest ERA of his career as a closer (3.15), even though his strikeouts were the third highest of his career.
With the likelihood being that Rivera will retire after his current contract expires in 2011, it is never too early to start grooming his replacement—and the Yankees shouldn’t have to look too far. While I am not quite ready to anoint Joba as the second coming, his pure “stuff” speaks for itself.
Armed with a fastball that can reach triple digits and a slider that can be unhittable, he is what every GM envisions when looking for a closer: a power arm, with two-plus pitches that can dominate and strike out any batter at any time.
While Joba could be an All-Star caliber starting pitcher, he has already shown how dominant he is as a reliever.
Even though the sample is small, there is no questioning the results he achieved in 2007. To find a pitcher who had the same success at the beginning of his career on the Yankees (15 1/3 scoreless innings to start his career), you have to go back to the ’06 season.
Just like in 1997 when the Yankees let John Wettland go and handed the reigns over to a young Mariano, the scenario in 2011 could play out in an eerily similar fashion.
If history does in fact repeat itself, all the Yankees and their fans can expect is 10-plus years with the most dominant closer in all of baseball.
The Yankees' organization and supporters should embrace this possibility with open arms.