Joel Sherman from the NY Post has the scoop
this morning. Citing Yankee executives, Sherman lays out the following plan for Joba Chamberlain in 2008:
- Prepare as a starter in Spring Training.
- Move to the bullpen for the beginning of the season and act as the 8th inning bridge to Mariano.
- In late May/early June go to the minors for 3-4 weeks to build up arm strength (throw 5-6 innings/game)
- Return to the Yanks as a starter for the remainder of the season
If true, I like this plan a whole lot. Sherman goes on to say the beginning of the season will also be used to identify a replacement for Joba as the 8th inning guy. The likely candidates are Kyle Farnsworth, LaTroy Hawkins, Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Ross Ohlendorf. There are a couple of wild cards in the organization as well, notable among them Mark Melancon.
This move probably gives the Yanks the best chance of avoiding a stumble out of the gates, and it's a perfect way to keep Joba around the 140-150 inning mark for the season. What it doesn't address is Phil Hughes' workload.
If they're going to adhere to the +30 rule for their young pitchers (workload doesn't increase by more than 30 innings, year over year), Hughes is going to be limited as well. There may be more leeway with Hughes, who was on pace to throw about about 150 innings last year, if not for the hamstring and ankle injuries which sidelined him during the season. But if there is more leeway, I can't see it being too drastic. The backup plan for the Yanks may be to just swap Hughes and Joba in June. It makes sense.
If Joba throws 30-40 innings out of the pen, and 100 or so in the rotation, Hughes does the same, and they both perform the way I think they will, the Yanks will have basically gotten a full season of a middle/front of the rotation starter and a full season of an end of the bullpen reliever with very good peripheral numbers out of two draft picks from the last four years. Two guys who had innings limits. That would be quite a boon for this franchise.
Obviously, this is all dependent on a couple of things. First, the veracity of Sherman's report. We've seen several conflicting reports on Joba's usage already this offseason. Second, the health of the rest of the rotation. I think Ian Kennedy probably has enough innings under his belt to stay in the rotation for the entire season, or at least most of it. But can Wang, Pettitte and most importantly Moose make it through the year? If any one of them can't there are going to be tough questions for the team to answer, and tough decisions to make.