Chances are that Joba Chamberlain is entering his final season with the Yankees. While he’s spent the majority of the last two seasons on the disabled list, he’s continued to amass service time and he’ll be eligible for free agency next winter at the tender age of 28.
The news yesterday that Chamberlain still thinks of himself as a rotation candidate makes it even less likely that he’ll remain in pinstripes. The Yankees obviously don’t see him in that role and haven’t for years. For what it’s worth, Chamberlain was far from bad as a starter early in his career, going 12-7 with a 4.18 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 221 2/3 innings over 43 starts. He did struggle to work deep into games, but he was effective more often than not.
Of course, that was before Chamberlain hurt his shoulder. He’s no longer the talent that he was when he entered the league as a brash 21-year-old reliever in 2007. He has been effective while healthy, though, posting a 3.47 ERA and a 46/13 K/BB ratio in 49 1/3 innings the last two years.
Chamberlain is set to be a sixth- or seventh-inning guy for the Yankees in front of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera this year. Perhaps the one thing that would keep him in New York is a stellar setup campaign that would establish him as the heir to Rivera’s job. That might cause the Yankees to ante up and keep him around. If, on the other hand, he matches my guardedly optimistic projection — a 3.30-3.50 ERA in about 60 innings — he figures to be too expensive to re-sign for a non-premium role. And if he ends up struggling, well, then he may be long gone before even hitting free agency.
Regardless, Chamberlain will, for the first time, control his own destiny next winter. If he decides he wants to start, it could well cost him some money, but he shouldn’t have much trouble finding a team willing to give him a shot. For all of his injuries, Chamberlain still throws in the mid-90s as a reliever. He possesses two breaking balls, and he expressed an interest in throwing his changeup more. His ability to hold up as a starter would be in question, but the stuff is there to make him a decent one.