From Joel Sherman (NY Post):
In today’s Post, I wrote that several Yankee officials confirmed to me that if Mariano Rivera were to go down for an extended period then Joba Chamberlain most likely would be made the closer. I continue to believe this is the most likely way Chamberlain ends up back in relief – not because the Yanks need him in the eighth inning, but because they need him in the ninth. I think they worry about not only having someone with the stuff for the job, but the disposition. They know Chamberlain would not be cowed by, say, the middle of the Red Sox lineup, one-run lead, bottom of the ninth, Fenway Park. As one Yankee official said, “Actually, I think he would love that.” There is no one else they can feel that sure about handling that level of pressure.
For me, this is akin to a paradox, as a Joba-switch would be both surprising and unsurprising. It would be surprising in that all pitchers are creatures of habit, meaning that a midseason starter-to-closer transition could be a fairly daunting task (physically and mentally). Therefore, why subject Joba to that if there are other options out there? Sure, they have done something similar before, with Joba, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be done again.
By other options, I’m referring to Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte. In terms of bullpen depth, it would seem as though they are the two primary options to replace Mariano if an injury were to occur. Bruney’s character is built on this premise of “tenacity” and he has a plus fastball, so why not? Bruney the closer was a concept that Sherman asked a Yankee official about, actually, and the official responded with the following:
“Let’s see him handle the eighth inning first.”
Ouch. But seriously, with ample arms in the ‘pen would it really be necessary to move Joba? Marte has closing experience and is a strikeout artist. I figure he can get it done, too. If the team were to move Joba again, it would seem — to me — to be a strange move given the presence of Marte and Bruney (a surprising one).
However, at the same time, Phil Hughes’ spring training would make it an unsurprising one. Hughes has been excellent this spring and many think he could handle the rotation this year (I agree). This would allow the Yankees to be flexible with Joba’s role. Also, Joba needs an innings cap, which would be negotiated through a Mariano injury and a move to the bullpen. So, given the team’s resources and need to cap Joba, the move would be unsurprising, as well.
Of course, in the end, this entire concept rests upon the notion that Mariano Rivera may be injured at some point this season. Rivera looked great in his spring debut and seems poised to have another strong year. He’s a robot, so I don’t think we’ll see Joba the closer anytime soon.
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