Cliff Lee was obviously the story of last night, and rightly so, since so many Yankee fans assumed the Yankees would sign him. Yet I don’t find myself all that upset with the developments. $100-plus-million contracts are rarely a good idea and the Yankees have already given out plenty of them. And it’s not like Cashman didn’t try—he offered Lee the best deal. Lee took something else. Whatever, you move on.
So what have I had on my mind since the Lee news broke? Joba Chamberlain. I know I’ve wasted far too much time writing about him already, but I can’t help it. His descent from being the Yanks top prospect to being nothing more than an afterthought continually perplexes me. Why did the Yankees waste so much time making him a starter only to turn him back into a bullpen piece? If they really think he’s a reliever, why didn’t they trade him for Dan Haren?
None of it makes sense, but the thing is there is still time. Yes, Joba has been inconsistent the past two seasons, but we’ve seen flashes of him as a dominant starter. In 2008, Baseball America predicted Joba would be the Yankees’ future No. 1 starter. Now we don’t think he can even be a No. 5? It’s only been two years since then and believe it or not, Joba still has that kind of upside. Remember, when Chien-Ming Wang was Joba’s age, he had never thrown a pitch in the majors; yet CMW was the Yankees erstwhile ace for a couple of seasons before his unfortunate injury.
Unless Joba has some sort of injury issue, there is absolutely no reason not to give him another crack at the rotation. His upside is much greater than Ivan Nova and miles ahead of Sergio Mitre. Really, what do the Yankees have to lose at this point? He can always go back to being a middle reliever and honestly, his stock can’t fall much further anyways.
So rather than making a panic trade or an ill-fated signing, the Yankees should look to fill from within first. It wasn’t long ago we envisioned Phil Hughes and Joba leading the Yankees rotation for years to come and, at only 24 and 25 years of age respectively, they still can. Cliff Lee, after all, had not yet thrown 100 innings in the majors when he was 25 and he didn’t have a really good season until he was 29. If the Yankees are really serious about getting younger, they need to show patience and moving Joba back to the rotation is the place to start.