Joba Chamberlain: Future Closer or Ace for the New York Yankees?

Eliot PodgorskyContributor IApril 3, 2008

We have all heard about how Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy are destined to become the New York Yankees Big Three, comparable to the Oakland Athletics trio of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito of the late 1990's.

However, I fear that we may never see the Yankees Big Three. The Yankees have stated that Chamberlain is on a strict innings limit about 175 including the playoffs, which is their main motivation for putting him in the bullpen. The Yankees goal is to build up Chamberlain's arm strength so in 2009 he can pitch 200 or more innings. There could be a big problem in doing this, however.

The Yankees have placed Chamberlain as the main setup man in the bullpen with the intention of moving him into the rotation come mid-season. In my opinion, this will never happen.

We all know we can expect  good seasons from Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes will most likely stay in the rotation regardless of how he pitches. The wild cards are Ian Kennedy and Mike Mussina. If Mussina rebounds to his 2006 form and Kennedy starts reaching his potential, then who do they pull from the rotation?

True, they could go with a six man rotation, but Wang has stated that he likes his routine between starts and adding another pitcher will disrupt that.

Another possible problem arises in how Chamberlain pitches out of the bullpen. If Chamberlain translates the two fantastic months he had last season over half of the 2008 season and the rotation is solid would the Yankees really want to mess with what they have going and move Chamberlain into the rotation? I highly doubt it.

If Chamberlain ends up spending the entire season in the bullpen, that would probably put him at 100 innings pitched maximum. If he only pitches 100 innings how many innings can we expect him to pitch in 2009? Definitely not 200 or more.

It is in the Yankees best interest for the present and future that they put him in the rotation. If that means going with a six man rotation and skipping a starter so Wang can pitch every five days, do it.

There's no need to worry about the bullpen. By moving Chamberlain to the rotation you do lose your setup man but there is a plethora of pitchers in the minor leagues who are capable of filling bullpen spots and possibly developing into setup men.

I truly hope that they move Chamberlain into the rotation, there is no doubt in my mind that if he were to eventually succeed Mariano Rivera, then he would be a tremendous success, but so much of his immense talent would be wasted.

For the sake of the Yankees, Chamberlain belongs in the rotation.