The star third baseman was hurt with a torn labrum. Their three massive offseason acquisitions were struggling mightily. The bullpen was being torn to shreds. All of this added up to a .500 record in April.
The calender turned to May, and the Yankees started to play.
The new Bronx Bombers woke up this morning only 1/2 game behind Texas for the best record in the American League. Many things can be contributed to the turn around, including a defense that has been phenomenal, which has helped bring confidence to the pitching staff.
Alex Rodriguez came back and has stabilized the line-up, while Mark Teixeira had the best May out of any other American League position player. C.C. Sabathia has become himself again and is leading a vastly improved Yankee starting rotation. Hey, even A.J. Burnett picked up a win the other night.
There is one thing the Yankees have left to do in order to become a force.
Let Phil Hughes stay in the rotation when Chien-Ming Wang returns and put Joba Chamberlain where he is best...in the bullpen as the eighth inning guy.
Face it Yankees fans, your relief pitching is a mess. When the opposition looks into the bullpen and knows that they have to face a combination of Jose Veras (6.97 ERA), Edwar Ramirez (5.19 ERA), Phil Coke (two blown saves), Alfredo Aceves (the one highlight), and Brett Tomko (there is a reason this is his eighth franchise in his career) to get to Mariano Rivera, they start laughing (I know at least I would).
Brian Bruney was slated to be the eighth inning reliever, but at this point who knows what you can count on due to his consistently hurting arm.
In case you have not seen it over the last several years, defense and solid relief pitching are two key factors to win the World Series (if you don't think so, look at all the teams that have won the World Series in the last seven years and look at what they have in common).
The defense, which has added Gold-Glove winning Teixeira, speedy Mark Gardner, and underestimated Nick Swisher in the offseason, has been vastly improved. Now with six starting pitchers to fill five slots, it's time to move Joba to a bullpen that is begging for help.
Wang has won 19 games in a season twice and his sinker is starting to show signs that it's back to it's form from two to three years ago. Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte are not going anywhere. Hughes has been up and down this season, but he is 23 and the Yankees need to find out what they have in him. Consistently bouncing him up and down from the minors and back also can potentially damage his psyche, which has happened in the past to several other players.
Chamberlain has put up respectable numbers as a starter this season (even with his spectacular outing last night), but it seems like he is being too held back to be used to his full potential.
Joba is built for the bullpen. He's got a fastball in the high-90's, a devastating curveball, and a bulldog mentality that many managers dream that their closers would have. His repertoire as a starter (with his fastball only topping out around 92-93) can hold an offense at bay. As the eighth inning set-up man, where he can let it all rip, he is untouchable, as shown in 2007 and 2008 (before he got hurt).
Also, in case you haven't noticed, Mariano is also 39 and showing signs that he is human. His cutter is not cutting and he has already given up more home runs already this season than in any other season in his career.
It is not an unreasonable assumption that a search for a new closer will be started within the next two years, and it would be nice if they have somebody already groomed for the role.
So here's a message to the "Steinbrothers," Brian Cashman, and Joe Girardi. As much as you want to develop your golden boy into a starter, it's time to take a look at what is best for the team you are paying over $200 million this season. You've got all of the pieces to do it, now it's time to use them properly.