Friday, November 6, 2009

Yankees, Stop Jerking Joba Around

Ninety-six days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

That’s what New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi says team owner George Steinbrenner told him during a conversation before today’s World Series victory parade.

That means it’s not too soon for the Yankees’ hierarchy to let its key players know exactly what their roles will be in 2010.

It’s time for the Yankees to tell Joba Chamberlain to not only avoid driving under the influence this off-season but also to start preparing himself mentally to be a full-time relief pitcher from hereon.

Forget Hank (son of George) Steinbrenner’s bluster about Joba having the potential to be the Yankees’ answer to Boston Red Sox ace Josh Beckett.

He doesn’t.

Anyone who watched Joba labor as a starter in 2009 and then return to his dominating self as a reliever in the postseason should know the 24-year-old belongs in the bullpen, as the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera.

The barrel-chested Joba was one of the most popular players among the millions of fans at today’s parade along the Canyon of Heroes up Broadway (not down Broadway; the parade route goes against the normal flow of traffic).

Fans chanted "Jo-ba! Jo-ba! Jo-ba!" even though New York City neglected to put the players’ names on the side of the floats.

It has been easy to recognize Joba since his fist-pumping, flame-throwing debut in the second half of the 2007 season.

Joba is at his best when he can come into games and blow hitters away with a three-pitch repertoire — sinking two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball and slider — rather than try to pace himself as a starter throwing four pitches that he cannot always command.

The Yankees should admit the Joba-as-starter experiment failed. There is no need for a reprise in 2010.

The Yankees are well-stocked in the rotation with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Chien-Ming Wang, Ian Kennedy and Andy Pettitte.

Yes, Hughes excelled as Rivera’s set-up man during the regular season. But the 23-year-old had a deer-in-the-headlights look in the postseason.

Hughes has the temperament to be a starter.

Joba, with his demonstrative, take-on-all-comers persona on the mound, is better suited for the bullpen.

Let him be a sponge next to Rivera in the Yankees’ bullpen. Let him soak up knowledge from the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history.

As Yankees players celebrated a pro-sports record 27th league championship on the podium at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night, a giddy Rivera said he wanted to pitch "five more years."

Magnificent as Rivera is, he will be 40 on November 29.

Rivera does not have five great seasons left. He may have two at best. That would make Rivera the closer through 2011, when his contract expires.

The Yankees should not wait until then to find his replacement. They should not assume they can just buy another team’s closer on the free agent market and plug him in.

Rivera’s successor is already on the Yankees’ roster. His name is Joba Chamberlain. It would be wise of the Yankees to let him know it.


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