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I tackled the easiest Yankee personnel decision on Friday, today I'm going to dive into a much more complex issue. The Joba Conundrum.

jobafreakout.jpgAnyone who saw the big kid pitch this season knows he's something special. Not only does he have a high-nineties fastball, a high-eighties slider, a high-seventies 12-6 curve, a legit change-up that we've never even seen and pinpoint control, but he's also got the intestinal fortitude to want the ball when the game is on the line. He thrives in the pressure cooker late innings, when the game is close and the fate of the team rides on his right arm. This last quality is perhaps the most important to keep in mind as you read this post.

The Question: What should Joba's role be on the 2008 Yankees?
The Answer: I'm going to give you my simplified answer in an easy-to-digest format, I'll explain my reasoning below:

Mariano Rivera Re-Signs = Joba Chamberlain Should Start
Mariano Rivera Leaves = Joba Chamberlain Should Close

This is a departure from my thoughts on the matter as recently as three weeks ago, but I think this is the right course of action for a couple of reasons. I'll tackle the easiest part first: If Mo leaves, Joba should definitely close. Francisco Cordero is the best free agent closer on the market (you can check for yourself here), and he is not an acceptable solution. The Yankees have no one else on their major league roster, nor in their minor league system who could step in and assume the closer role. The "no better option" logic is only the beginning, however. We all saw it in him, he has what it takes to close for this team. He's not a namby-pamby 3-outs-only kind of guy. He's a give me the ball and I'll finish the game type of guy. He's a bring me in the with the bases loaded and I'll strike out the side kind of guy. He's a Mariano Rivera type of guy. I'm 100% confident that if Rivera leaves, Joba will be that guy for the Yankees for the next 10 years.

Of course, there are two problems with this train of thought for me, 1) I don't want to see Rivera go. He's still got a couple dominant years left in him. 2) If Joba is "that" guy starting in 2008, we'll never know if he could've been the other guy. You know, the go out there and throw a shutout in game 7 of the World Series, type of guy.

Which brings us to the other scenario. If Mo comes back on say a 2 or 3 year deal, then what do you do with Joba? I was of the belief that he should spend the next couple of years under Mo's wing, and provide the Yanks with a one-two punch out of the pen unmatched in the league. Watching the playoffs, and the dominant pitching performances which always define the post season, I've come around. If Joba has a chance to be that, we have to find out, and we have to find out in 2008.

If Joba spends a season or two in the pen, it's going to be too late to convert him back to a starter. That's not an absolute certainty, but it will definitely be harder. 2007 was Joba's first year in professional ball. All told, he threw 112 innings in '07. The modus operandi for the Yankees is to gradually increase their young pitchers' workload. The rule of thumb seems to be a 20 inning jump, per year. I don't really agree with this philosophy, but it's something they believe in. If Joba was to spend the entire season as the closer, he probably wouldn't throw more than 80 innings, and that would be pushing it. If he does it for a couple of years, he'll be accustomed to that amount of wear-and-tear. If at that point, you suddenly transform him into a starter, and expect 200 innings from him, you're probably going to wind up with an injured Joba.

2008 is the year to do it. They could spend the season testing out his stuff, stamina and makeup as a starter, with the added benefit of increasing his workload, and building his long-term arm strength.

Obviously, the ideal outcome is for the Yankees to re-sign Mariano Rivera, as soon as possible. Having him on the roster not only keeps a living legend in the pinstripes and gives them a top-tier closer, but it also allows them the flexibility to experiment with Joba's role.

Two more things: 1) Joba needs to spend some serious time on conditioning this off season. He's a big dude, and not in a particularly good way. If he doesn't get his conditioning down now, it could turn into a major problem down the road. 2) The workload on the three young pitchers (Joba, Hughes and Ian Kennedy) could be a problem after the All Star break in 2008. Here are their inning totals for 2007, keep in mind that the organization likes to increase workload by 20 innings per year.

  • Chamberlain: 112 innings
  • Hughes: 110 innings
  • Kennedy: 166 innings
Only Kennedy projects to being able to pitch a full season in the rotation, if the Yanks stick to their plan. Just food for thought at this point, I'll delve into the rotation later in the off season, when more has been decided.

by Brian on Oct 22 2007
Tags: Ian Kennedy | Mariano Rivera | Off Season | Phil Hughes |