Joba Chamberlain: Is He a Starter or Reliever for the New York Yankees in 2012?

Brian Buckley@brianbuck13Contributor IIDecember 16, 2011

BOSTON - APRIL 06:  Joba Chamberlain #62 of the New York Yankees reacts after getting out of trouble in the 8th inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 6, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

During the offseason, pitching has clearly been the topic for the New York Yankees—particularly starters. With Sabathia, and no sure bets behind him in the rotation, is it time to revisit “The Joba Chamberlain Debate”?

It’s no secret the Yankee brain trust played a role in the present situation for the right-handed reli—ugh—…pitcher. 

Being used as a virtual yo-yo and toyed with by the suits in the suites caused confusion for him and the fans. 

Yankee enthusiasts continue to ponder Joba’s role.  

The question, “Joba: Bullpen or starter?” became as commonplace as, “Democrat or Republican?” or “Coke or Pepsi?” 

WFAN’s Mike “The Godfather of Sports Talk” Francesa proposed the question to fans for five hours a day for three years! 

Long before the constant contemplation of Chamberlain’s role, his “baptism by fire” in 2007 electrified the Bronx crowd. It set up Mariano Rivera with unbridled enthusiasm that quickly made him a crowd favorite. 

That year, he appeared in 19 regular season games, pitched 24 innings and earned a 0.38 ERA, including 34 SO. 

After each strikeout and fist pump, he cemented a role “somewhere” in the pitching future of the Bombers.

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NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 29:  Joba Chamberlain of the New York Yankees looks on during their game against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 29, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

After 2007, Chamberlain was assigned to the starter’s role, sent back to the bullpen, allowed to audition for the starting nod and then sent back to the bullpen.  Back and forth like Aaliyah went Chamberlain. 

Did this take a toll on the young pitcher’s psyche? 

Well, it might have played a role in wearing out his arm. He eventually succumbed to a season-ending Tommy John surgery in June of last season.

Optimistically speaking, Chamberlain is recovering nicely and is eyeing a return during spring training. 

His return is more likely to be in the second half of the season, due to the recovery time of 12-18 months for Tommy John surgery. With that being said, when he finally does button up for 2012, he will be walking into a different bullpen from the one he left.

Following Chamberlain’s season-ending injury, reliever David Robertson had a breakout year as the setup man for “Old Reliable” Rivera in 2011. 

With Robertson’s 1.08 ERA and 1.13 WHIP and Rafael Soriano’s bloated contract, it’s a pretty safe bet that neither of them are going anywhere. Now his setup role in the 8th inning is occupied and the 7th inning appears to be spoken for. So, where does that leave Chamberlain?

The Yankees have tendered him a one-year contract that will probably resemble his 2011 salary of $1.4 million. 

Internally, the Yankees probably realize they just took a flyer out on Chamberlain and his worth could be minimal coming off a serious injury.  But with the gamble on a minuscule salary, the team just wants to see what’s left in No. 62’s tank.

As Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi peer into their crystal ball as if they were Ms. Cleo, what exactly do they see for the Yankee pitching staff? 

They see an ace in C.C., a rising star in Ivan Nova, and the “The Usual Suspects” in Burnett, Hughes and Garcia. If any of these hurlers are struggling midseason when Chamberlain returns, do we revisit the age old question? 

Joba: Bullpen or starter?