Was it over before it started?

The worst-kept secret in Yankeeland was made official today: Phil Hughes will indeed enter the 2010 season as the team’s fifth starter.

The Hughes/Joba situation has been analyzed to death on this and every other blog in the ‘sphere, so I don’t want to waste too much more time on this subject, but I will say that, while there really is no “right” move in this situation, this certainly makes the most sense from a develop-Phil-Hughes-as-a-starter-long-term perspective.

Of course, on the flip side it leaves Joba Chamberlain completely unresolved and pretty much confirms that all the babying of Joba was probably a waste of time and may have ended up hindering his development more than anything else. If the team truly believes that Joba is best deployed as a reliever (though I don’t think this is the case), then I suppose this decision makes a bit more sense. But to use Chamberlain exclusively out of the bullpen for all of 2010 and then expect him to be able to go back to shouldering a full season’s workload of starting in 2011 sounds like it’s asking an awful lot.

Moshe points out that this hypothetical plan isn’t quite as unrealistic as it sounds assuming the Yankees use Joba’s 2009 career high in innings pitched as a baseline, but even so it seems highly unlikely that 2011 Joba is going to come out and dominate as a starter after a full year in the pen. Joba’s had a fair amount of difficulty as it is since transitioning to the rotation full-time last year, and he’s going to continue to need to take his lumps as a starter if he’s ever going to reach his full potential.

Which is why you can count me in with those who wouldn’t mind seeing Joba sent down to AAA to continue his work as a starter. I would be surprised if the organization actually had the stones to send a resource like Joba back down to the minors, given what the team likely thinks he can potentially provide the big club in relief. However, who’s to say that Joba the 2010 reliever will even be anywhere near as effective as Joba the 2007-2008 reliever? It’s certainly not a slam dunk, and he didn’t exactly dominate out of the pen in the playoffs last October.

For the Yankees to get the maximum value out of these two pitchers, they need to do everything they can to ensure that both players are able to contribute at the bare minimum league-average innings from the back end of the rotation. Unfortunately — and barring injury, of course — I fear only one of them will be given that opportunity this year.

4 thoughts on “Was it over before it started?

  1. This move surprises me. Needless to say, I didn't see it coming. I thought for sure the team would tap Joba because he has no innings limit this year. Ideally both would become starters, and while Hughes may be the better starter in a few years time, this season Joba is more free to fill that role. Why not start Hughes in AAA and then call him up to work from the pen to fill his innings? This allows Hughes one more protected season and gives Joba a real chance to prove he can start.

  2. Agreed; while the fanboy in me obviously loves the idea of Hughes the starter, the more I think about it I just can't quite fathom what the team thinks it's doing with Joba.

  3. The only thing that makes sense is that the team has decided to make him the Closer in waiting.

    The Yankees have two glaring, difficult to fill holes in the future pitching staff: starters and a closer, because Mo will have to retire one day. Perhaps they've decided Hughes is the starter and Joba is the future closer.

    Frankly, though, its a head scratcher because there are more examples of pitchers going from the rotation to a closer's role than migrating from the pen to starting.

    It makes one wonder what the Yankees have been doing to Joba all these years.

  4. so we got 2 facts from the Yankees:
    1. Hughes will start
    2. Joba will go to pen and can earn the setup roll
    this leads me to speculate:
    1. Joba will never start again
    2. Joba is being groomed to close
    3. what are they going to do when Hughes reaches his innings limit? get someone off the scrap heap? Paging Sydney Ponson…
    4. has Mo changed his plans about his future? or have the yankees made a decision? surely they arent going to have Joba set up for several years… or will they share the roll to keep Mo fresh for October?

    so long term, i have no idea where the yankees go from here