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Analysis: Joba, from phenom to spare part

Joba Chamberlain

Joba Chamberlain Credit: Getty Images

Joba Chamberlain was once the glittering star of Yankee prospects: a big, bulky flamethrower who had the stuff to serve as a starter, a setup man or, eventually, a closer.
Now, he’s expendable.

Thanks to last week’s signing of former Tampa Bay closer Rafael Soriano to a three-year, $35 million deal, Chamberlain’s future in pinstripes is cloudy.

Never mind the one-year, $1.4 million deal Chamberlain, 25, signed yesterday to avoid arbitration. That might just make the right-handed former phenom easier to trade. A change of scenery might be best for all involved at this point; Chamberlain is basically a ruined pitcher — of the Yankees’ own making.

Even as the Bombers fell in love with Chamberlain’s versatility, they never figured out how to best use him on the mound.

Since Chamberlain burst into the majors in 2007 with a 0.38 ERA in 19 appearances, the Yankees have jerked him between starter and reliever roles and wrecked his mind-set. The Joba Rules that limited his innings in 2008 and ’09 ultimately made him inconsistent. His disastrous turn as Mariano Rivera’s setup man last season resulted in a demotion and destroyed his confidence.

Now projected as a sixth- and seventh-inning reliever behind David Robertson, Chamberlain will watch Soriano (league-leading 45 saves in 2010 with a 1.73 ERA) take the setup role for at least this season, and maybe two more depending if Soriano stays for the full length of his contract.

The holes in the Yankees’ starting rotation may yet be Chamberlain’s final chance despite his 4.64 ERA during the last two seasons. But that would mean another disruptive change and — given Chamberlain’s history — likely failure.

Though the Yankees reportedly have no interest in trading him now, they might be wise to unload him for some starting pitching and let another organization worry about the reclamation project.

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