The Joba Chamberlain-Phil Hughes beauty contest now playing out in the media and sports blogs everywhere is as fine a sham reality show as has ever been produced anywhere on network television. In the end, when the pre-scripted outcome is revealed, everyone who has voiced an opinion or weighed in on it will be forced to tip their cap to this magnificent charade concocted by Joe Girardi and his staff, and I would like to be the first here to do so.
Solid starting pitchers don't grow on trees. Good relievers are far more plentiful, and we're hip deep in the latter already. The Yankees put extraordinary time and effort into developing, protecting, and nurturing Joba last season under difficult must-win circumstances, which is a testament to the commitment and resolve of Brian Cashman, Joe G, and the Steinbrenners.
For the record, Joba is still an incredibly young guy who ate up 150-plus innings and gave us a winning record. In a solid half-season of quality starts (six innings or more with three runs or less), he performed under confounding rules and rest restrictions that might’ve loused up the timing of even the best starting pitcher.
Hughes may well one day be a top-flight starter, but his stupendous eighth-inning set-ups last year saved every Yankee arm tons of wear and tear; closers, middle-relievers and starters alike. He already has an invaluable niche. So for now, Phil should just prepare to set the plate for Big Mo again this year.
You’ll find nobody in the Boston press or sports blogs cracking wise about Joba. They fear his next phase as a rules-free starter, as well they should.
Another fact I think everyone is also failing to keep in mind is that this isn't exactly a do-or-die situation. It's the fifth rotation spot, after all. Is there any other No. 5 pitcher in the American League that anyone would want to swap for Joba?
I didn't think so. That's because whether he succeeds as a starter or reliever, everybody acknowledges he will actually succeed in one of those roles, and that he has the potential to be a special player in whatever spot he ultimately lands in.
As for Phil, is there any other No. 5 pitcher in the AL anyone would want to swap for him? I think perhaps there might be. Phil has proven himself as a great set-up man and perhaps a potential closer for the future.
However, he has shown no potential or record of accomplishment as a starter like Joba has. Hughes is a set-up man extraordinaire with a track record for long relief and the potential to be a closer. Joba has shown he has closer-ready stuff already, as well as the ability to eat up innings in long relief, and to deliver quality starts over more than a half-season under the J-Rules that likely harmed his stats in 2009 as much as they protected and prepared him for a no-rules 2010 season.
I believe this spring training competition for the fifth starter is nothing more than a winnowing process to decide which long relievers to keep or dump. We gave Chien-Ming Wang 12 straight starts at the beginning of last season out of necessity due to our short rotation and watched him cough it up every time. Joba deserves at least that much consideration, and that much of a chance this season to show his stuff. And I believe he will get it.
Also, by keeping the illusion of a competition alive, the Yankees management team will flummox rival managers and GM's trying to sort out and decode opening day rosters and matchups as well as any late preseason transactions to aid their run at the World Champions. (Now frantically channel-surfing for the answers on a big-screen near you: Theo Epstein.)
Regardless of how this faux spring training competition works out, the simple truth is that if Joba isn't even allowed to start the season as the fifth starter, then the J-rules of 2009 could not be characterized in any way as a failure of Joba's. They would, however, without question be seen as a colossal blunder by the team that would negatively impact the morale and development of Joba as well as any other young arms they claim to be developing in the future.
I believe the Joba Rules were a master stroke by Joe G & Co. designed to establish a home-grown starting pitcher with the potential to be a cornerstone of our resurgent dynasty now and years into the future. I don't believe it was a blunder, that the plan was a good one, and that the organization is just playing possum with the media and competition with this so-called spring training beauty contest for the last starting pitcher role. And that's why I believe he will be a starter.
Joba should be our fifth man in 2010 and that decision was made two years ago by the producers of this finely crafted mini-series, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman. History says so. The stats say so. The J-Rules say so.
And in the end, I firmly believe, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman will also say so.
Bravo, Joe and Brian. Your EMMY awards and 28th rings await. Fade to black. Roll credits.
[For even more Yankee fun, check out my musical comedy vid “Joe’s Job – The Ballad of Terry Francona” at
It’s must-see entertainment for Yankee and Red Sox fans alike! Go Yankees! 28 in 2010!!!]