Time goes by like pouring rain: What’s happened to Joba Chamberlain? Millions of Yankees fans, millions of reasons. You choose. This much we know: It wasn’t the fault of the insects in Cleveland. Chamberlain was about as good in a full 2008 as he was in an abbreviated 2007. But his ERA the last two years has been 4.64 after it was 2.17 his first two. Chamberlain has turned into baseball’s version of John Daly: physically large, Middle American, potentially loveable, debuted as a star, an alcohol-related arrest, the frittering away of talent and opportunity. It’s easy to blame the Yankees for messing up Chamberlain’s career, saying he should have been a starter or he should have been a reliever. Here’s the problem with that theory: Chamberlain started 31 of 32 games in 2009 and wasn’t very good. He relieved in all 73 games he pitched in 2010 and wasn’t very good. It’s about time to blame the person most responsible for Chamberlain’s lack of success in 2009-10: Joba Chamberlain.
I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Catcher Jesus Montero isn’t doing much to make the Yankees out of spring training — and with Francisco Cervelli hurt, there was the possibility — but if he doesn’t now, he will later this summer. Montero is hitting .206 this spring through Monday’s games, but there’s little question he can do better. Much better. He has a career .314 minor-league average and .882 OPS; he slugged .517 last year in AAA as a 20-year-old. With Jorge Posada moving to DH, the timing was perfect for Montero, but better than his catching skills — he’s thrown out only 23% of potential base stealers and had 15 passed balls last year. That’s why Russell Martin is here, and Montero probably won’t be in April, but only for a few months.
What is this man doing here? Two weeks ago we would have filled this space with the absurdity of Bartolo Colon’s comeback attempt, but Colon has fanned 17 and walked 1 in 15 spring innings. Whoops. Which brings us to outfielder Greg Golson. He’s a former first-round pick of the Phillies who probably would have long ago been out of baseball if he wasn’t. Golson is fast and has some power, but has a .263 career minor-league average and walk-strikeout totals that would make you think he’s hit against no one but Felix Hernandez in the minors. Golson has 836 strikeouts vs. 177 walks in 7 minor-league seasons, including an absurd 173-23 ratio in 2007. Pinch-runners just aren’t that valuable.
Outlook: For all the consternation about the the fourth and fifth starters, let’s not exaggerate: the Yankees are one of the best teams in baseball. If not the best. Let’s count the ways:
- They have the best offense — they’ve scored the most runs in baseball the last two years and are likely to again.
- They have the best eighth/ninth inning bullpen in baseball, whether GM Brian Cashman wanted Rafael Soriano or not.
- They have a farm system capable of supplying reinforcements or being traded to acquire them. Montero will help, former No. 1 pick Andrew Brackman will soon be ready, Manuel Banuelos has high strikeout rates in the minors, and the Yankees have two more catchers with major-league potential: Austin Romine, and 18-year-old Gary Sanchez, who slugged .543 in short-season last year.
- They have CC Sabathia, who has thrown at least 230 innings and won 17 games for four consecutive seasons.
That’s a pretty good start at the postseason. The Yankees’ starting pitching isn’t the crisis it’s projected to be. A.J. Burnett may rebound (although his reduced strikeout rate should be a concern), but the Yankees still have Phil Hughes and a host of possibilities: Ivan Nova, Colon, Sergio Mitre, a trade, Brackman, Freddy Garcia, a trade, etc. Besides the Red Sox have just as many questions about their starting rotation, and they’re paying it more.
If you’re a Yankee-hater, you’re going to have to take your fun from the front office, where GM Brian Cashman dissented from the Soriano signing and exec Randy Levine, whether to ingratiate himself with Hank Steinbrenner or exorcise last October’s ALCS loss, took this winter to castigating former Rangers’ counterpart Chuck Greenberg (who resigned last week).
Unfotunately, they probably won’t have much to bicker about.
Remember when: 2011 is 50 years after Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. Ironically, in 1961 Maris was the bad guy, for surpassing Ruth and besting Mickey Mantle (remember commissioner Ford Frick’s asterisk?). Today, no longer the record-holder, Maris is the good guy and viewed far more sympathetically. Three hitters have topped his 61 home runs (six times), but there are performance-enhancing drugs questions about all of them, none about Maris. And for the record, while Maris’ stats spiked in 1961, they weren’t out of character. He slugged .620 in 1961, .581 in 1960; his OPS was .993 in 1961, .952 in 1960, and he was American League MVP in both of those seasons. He only hit 275 career home runs, but he only played 12 major-league seasons, and many of them were injury-marred. He retired young, shortly after his 34th birthday, and died tragically young, at but 51.