Normally, I consider myself a pretty reasonable person. In general, I don’t let my emotions get the best of me. Most of the time, when confronted with something I don’t agree with, I’ll at least try to think it through and see the valid points of the opposition. As a rule, I try to avoid gut reactions. Yesterday, I broke that rule.
When I found out that Phil Hughes would be the fifth starter, via phone conversation with my girlfriend when I left my internship, I let loose an array of curses like few I’ve uttered before. I’m very angry about this.
Before going any farther, I want to say this: my ire is not to be taken as vitriol against Phil Hughes. I like Phil Hughes and I really hope he succeeds in the rotation. He’s got all the tools to do so, and I think he’ll prove himself well. Anyway, let me tell you all why I’m angry about this (it’s pretty predictable):
1. It makes me lose a bit of faith in the front office’s ability to decide how to best utilize talented players. The last two and a half years of Joba Chamberlain’s handling has been absolutely atrocious. Despite Joba’s success in the rotation in 2008, that year is almost a wasted year of development, if only because of his injury. Due to that injury, the attempted back loading of his innings looked even sillier than it did in the first place. He should have been starting from day one in 2008. That was the first major set back to his development; this is the second, and more major, hindrance. The handling of Phil Hughes in 2009 was also sketchy–he never should have been relieving. I fear that future big time prospect pitchers–Manny Banuelos, for example–will be mishandled in a similar fashion to Hughes and Chamberlain.
2. It’s short sighted. While either pitcher who lost the competition would be getting set back, it makes little sense for Chamberlain, who just pitched a full season and has been gradually broken in as a starter in the past two years, to be the one who takes a step back. Doing this now makes the 2011 Yankees a little weaker (discounting a huge FA pitcher contract that I don’t think is coming). Once again in 2011, the Yankees will have to play it safe with Joba-the-Starter (if he returns to that role, ugh). 2010 will be another year of lost development for Chamberlain. In the bullpen, he likely won’t be utilizing all of his pitches, but rather just his fastball and slider, which don’t really need that much work. This move, if made permanent, has the ability to be Dave Righetti Part Two.
3. It kills Chamberlain’s trade value. I have never wanted to trade either one of Chamberlain or Hughes, but I have to wonder now if the Yankees could get more value out of Joba by trading him now. However, the Yankees know Joba better than any other team. If they don’t believe that Chamberlain can handle being the fifth starter for two consecutive years, why would any team think that? Even if another team’s GM does believe (and properly so) that Chamberlain could be a good starter, why would he let that on? He’d likely “pretend”, so to speak, to be low on Joba and would not give up as much as he should. This move has made Joba basically un-tradeable.
Of course, there are ways that this catastrophe could be mitigated:
1. If a starter gets hurt and Chamberlain fills the role. Based on what the Yankees did with Phil Hughes/Chien-Ming Wang in 2009, this seems unlikely.
2. Chamberlain starts 2010 in Scranton-Wilkes Barre. This also seems unlikely in light of the Hughes/Wang situation of 2009 (I hope this is what happens, but I’m definitely not holding my breath).
3. Chamberlain’s role in the 2010 Yankee bullpen is not as a one-inning-and-done-closer-lite-role. If he does indeed pitch out of the ‘pen to start, ’10, I hope it is in an Alfredo Aceves type role, in which he can get multiple innings at a time. Again, though, this seems unlikely. The Yankees already have two long guys in Aceves and Mitre. Of course, it’s never a bad thing to have three guys who can go multiple innings out of the bullpen; but given the trends of current bullpen usage, it’s not likely that all three are used as multiple inning guys (I’m pining for the return of the 2-3 inning closer and using that as a way to break in young pitchers).
Basically, I’m pretty peeved about this. It does, however, make me realize how lucky I am as a Yankee fan. Most teams would kill to have one of Hughes/Chamberlain on their rosters; the Yankees have both. When your team’s biggest problem is which high-upside-ultra-talented you can put in the rotation, you know you’re pretty lucky.
So, in closing:
Dear Phil: Good luck; don’t forget about the curveball.
Dear Joba: Tough break, but blow ‘em away, anyway.
Dear Brian Cashman, Dave Eiland, and Joe Girardi: I hope you know what you’re doing. Do the right thing and send Joba to SWB to start the year.