Now that the Yankees have finally made a big move this offseason, adding reliever Rafael Soriano as the main setup man for closer Mariano Rivera with a three-year, $35 million deal, it takes some of the focus off of the weak starting rotation.
The addition of Soriano gives the Yankees one of the best bullpens in baseball, and does actually help their starting rotation. With the addition of a lock down eighth inning pitcher like Soriano, the games essentially become seven innings long. When you take relievers David Robertson and Pedro Feliciano into account, Yankee starters can really afford to pitch just six quality innings to secure a win.
Right now, the Yankees starting rotation consists of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and most likely, Ivan Nova. And while they are exploring multiple options for their fifth starter, the Yankees haven't made a move yet.
So I ask: Is it time for Joba Chamberlain to become a starting pitcher again?
To fill the fifth starter's role, the Yankees have had their eye on guys like Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Duchscherer and Jeff Francis. Francis recently signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Royals, so he's off the table and it's unclear whether the Yankees view Duchscherer as a starter or reliever.
He missed all of 2009 due to injury and last season started just five games, going 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA. With Duchscherer, the Yankees would probably be best served to use him as a long man in the bullpen, but he would of course compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.
The Yankees might be inclined to offer Bonderman, who is still just 28, a one-year deal and hope to catch lightning in a bottle. Last season for Detroit, Bonderman went 8-10 with a 5.53 ERA in 29 starts.
While you'd be hard pressed to find many major league teams with an ace for a fifth starter (even the Phillies, for all their starting rotation strength, have Joe Blanton), but it's the fact that the Yankees don't know who their fifth starter will be that is the problem.
The Yankees don't need an ace, they just need some serviceable, and with the addition of Rafael Soriano, they only need him to pitch six innings at the most in a given start.
So I'll ask again: Is it time for Joba Chamberlain to become a starter again?
Last season, in relief, Chamberlain posted a 4.40 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP in 73 games. At the moment, the Yankees' biggest strength is their bullpen. With Robertson and Feliciano able to hold down the seventh inning, Soriano in the eighth and Rivera closing out the games, how necessary is Chamberlain in the bullpen?
In 43 career starts, Chamberlain is 13-9 with a 3.67 ERA. In 2009, his longest season as a starter, Chamberlain's ERA over the first six innings was 4.82; not exactly pretty, but if the Yankees offense can spot him some runs and bring a lead into the late innings, the bullpen can lock it down.
And of course we all remember the "Joba Rules," which was the Yankees' attempt to turn Chamberlain into a starter while limiting his innings. Well, having a strong bullpen, as the Yankees now do, basically is like having built-in "Joba Rules" because it means Chamberlain wouldn't have to pitch deep into games very often.
When the Yankees enter Spring Training in about a month, they'll have most likely added some arms to compete to the fifth starter's role. But they should also give Chamberlain a chance to prove he can fulfill his potential as a starting pitcher, saving the Yankees both time and money.
Entering 2011, Chamberlain's stock has never been lower and he'll need to reestablish his worth to the Yankees. With starting pitching as important as it is and with the 2011 free agent class a bit weak on pitching, Chamberlain's best bet to improve his value is as a starter.
If he can do so, the Yankees will have filled their fifth starter internally, or if he pitches well, use Chamberlain as a trade chip for a more established starting pitcher.
It's a win-win situation for the Yankees and worth a look.
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