The narrative of Joba Chamberlain has shifted so often the past four years it's easy to forget where it left off from one season to the next.
He's gone from phenom reliever (2007) to promising starter (2008) to struggling starter (2009) to mediocre reliever (2010).
Rafael Soriano's arrival in town tells us the Yankees worry the downward trending isn't temporary. Chamberlain's evolution from vaunted farm product to JAG (Just Another Guy) status is undoubtedly one of the organization's bigger disappointments in recent memory.
There are several conspiracy theories as to how this came to be. A popular explanation is that he was fouled up by the choppy and ill-conceived "Joba Rules." There's a camp that says he never fully recovered from a shoulder injury suffered in August 2008. Others question his self-discipline—Chamberlain was downgraded from "husky" to "doughy" in 2010. Some believe he was nothing more than hype to begin with.
Whatever it is, it doesn't appear Joe Girardi has much use for him at this point. Think back to Game 4 of the ALCS, when the manager left a warmed and ready Joba in the bullpen, sticking with A.J. Burnett to face Bengie Molina with a one-run lead and two on in the sixth inning.
I hate to bring this stuff up to you guys, because you know what happened next: Molina belted the first pitch he saw from Burnett into the seats in left and that was that. The Yankees were toast.
Girardi's decision told you everything you needed to know about where he stood on Chamberlain. The right-hander did eventually enter the game but only after the outcome was decided. I wrote that night that I thought we had witnessed Joba's final game in pinstripes.
Chamberlain could very well use a change in environment, a fresh start where he can hit the reset button and try this thing again. But given his salary, it's unlikely the Yankees will give up on him just yet.
We learned Tuesday the Yankees and Chamberlain avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $1.4 million deal. Chamberlain—once considered the future ace of the franchise—will make just $200,000 more than Boone Logan this season. Ouch.
It's possible the Yankees may deal Chamberlain for the starting pitching help they so desperately need. But his value is at a low point right now, making a trade for a reputable starter unlikely.
If the Yankees do keep him, there is reason to be hopeful. For the first time in his career, Chamberlain will enter a season without much in the way of expectations. No one views him as a front-end starter anymore. With Soriano's arrival, no one sees him as Mariano Rivera's successor, either.
Maybe being buried in the mix a bit is exactly what he needs at this point in his career. It may not be following the script the Yankees envisioned when he exploded on the scene four years ago, but at least, he'll have the opportunity to re-write his story.
The Joba Redemption perhaps?
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