Mailbag: How will Chamberlain be used?

Mailbag: Chamberlain's future role

For the third consecutive year, the Yankees' season ended in the first round of the playoffs, and that surely means changes are on the way. The organizational brain trust is primed to meet in Tampa, Fla., this week to settle some of the issues revolving around the club, including Joe Torre, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, on and on.

For the first Yankees mailbag of the offseason, let's delve in and try to read the tea leaves a little:

Will the Yankees consider using Joba Chamberlain as a setup man for a year or two and then move him into the closer role, a la Jonathan Papelbon? Aren't great closers more valuable than a good starter?
-- Greg H., Oneco, Conn.

Based upon what Hank Steinbrenner said last week in Tampa, no. On a personal note, I thought there might be more temptation to keep Chamberlain in relief, especially after watching him out-and-out dominate hitters for the last two months of the season.

Really, until the swarm of Lake Erie midges came and interrupted his storybook season in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, Chamberlain seemed to be the equivalent of a get-out-of-inning-free card for Torre -- just toss Chamberlain out there and move on to the next frame. He was really quite effective at "shortening the game," which is one of those phrases people like to toss around, and by season's end there were only two relievers you really, truly trusted in that bullpen -- Chamberlain and Rivera.

But Brian Cashman has insisted all along that he sees Chamberlain as a starting pitcher going forward, and that plan was confirmed last week by Steinbrenner outside Legends Field. The reasoning is that while Chamberlain has the pure "stuff" to get through three to six outs in relief just with his fastball and slider, the Yankees believe incorporating the changeup and curveball over the course of an extended start can make him a front-line starting pitcher.

Chamberlain's Minor League numbers as a starter -- 9-2 with a 2.56 ERA, striking out 125 in 84 1/3 innings -- seem to indicate he should be at least given a chance. In the worst case scenario (let's say he struggles as a starter, or in the event Rivera leaves via free agency), the Yankees could always shuffle Chamberlain back to relief, a role he's proven he can handle in the big leagues.

It is hard to think about it, but Rivera is heading toward the end years of his career. Eventually, the Yankees will have to find a new closer. As of now, there is only one person in my mind that can be the next great closer: Chamberlain. He even has his own entrance song. In your opinion, will Chamberlain take over for Rivera?
-- Marcin K., New York

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For years, there has been that unanswerable question hovering over the organization: Who could ever possibly replace the Hall of Fame-bound Rivera, handling the pressures and situations that go along with being the closer for the Yankees franchise? In the final two months of the season, you saw an answer finally emerge.

That's why I would place one caveat on what Steinbrenner said last week -- if negotiations, for whatever reason, don't work out with Rivera, you could see Chamberlain shuffled right back to the bullpen to fill the ninth-inning role.

It's a long shot, as many believe Rivera is a near-lock to return, but crazier things have happened. At least the Yankees have that option. By the way, Chamberlain's entrance song is Motley Crue's "Shout at the Devil."

Why wasn't Ian Kennedy on the playoff roster? To be honest, I would rather have had him than Jose Veras.
-- Tom E., New York

The Yankees never were in position to make that choice, because Kennedy was never available to them. If you'll remember, Kennedy was scratched from a start in September because of a strained muscle in his upper back, and the Yankees opted to take a cautious route with him. Kennedy traveled with the Yankees through the end of the regular season and was sent to Tampa after the final game in Baltimore, with the intention to keep him throwing and perhaps have available for the AL Championship Series roster.

He was married Oct. 6 in St. Louis and, when the Yankees were presented with a chance to replace Roger Clemens on the ALDS roster after Game 3, the word from the organization was that Kennedy still wasn't ready to pitch. That's why they went with Ron Villone instead.

If Torre does not return as manager in '08, how about Larry Bowa taking over as skipper? Yes, he is the polar opposite of Torre, but isn't that the whole point of getting a new manager, to get a new personality as the leader in the clubhouse?
-- Anthony V., Hamilton, N.J.

It's an interesting idea. Don Mattingly has been mentioned in reports as the perceived front-runner should Torre not be invited back for a 13th season, and of course Joe Girardi has kept a close touch from the YES Network booth.

But the Yankees had a few people with managerial experience on their 2007 bench. Bowa is one, along with Tony Pena and also Joe Kerrigan; of those three, Bowa might have had the best shot to assume the reins had the Yankees opted to dismiss Torre in-season, "shaking up" the team in late May before they rebounded to win 94 games.

Again, this all hinges on what the brain trust decides this week, but if the Yankees managerial position is open, Bowa's familiarity with the roster and his past history could open the door for at least an interview.

How likely is it that Johnny Damon will still be in pinstripes come next season? I'm sure he's got to be annoyed now that his playing time has been minimized a bit due to Melky Cabrera and his turns as designated hitter. He seems such a good fit for the Bombers. It'd be unfortunate to see Damon leave.
-- Sean P., New York

Good question. Damon is due some credit for the professional way he handled his situation, especially early in the season when it was clear that he was no longer the best option. Damon signed a four-year contract to play center field for the Yankees and didn't even last 1 1/2 years before he was shuffled off, first to the DH role and then to left field, where he played quite well defensively.

At one point, though, Damon was quite revealing when he said Cabrera was the organization's future in center field. Damon still considers himself a center fielder and, if Cabrera is the answer for years going forward, that makes it quite apparent that Damon may not think he is. One media report recently detailed that Damon sold his New York apartment, the first signs of smoke on the Damon front.

Would you expect Hideki Matsui, Damon, Mike Mussina and Clemens to retire at the end of the season, and if so, would there be any free agents the Yankees would target to replace them next year?
-- Andrew S., Fairport, N.Y.

Of the four players you mentioned, only Clemens is not under contract for next season. For years, we've wondered when Clemens might finally call it enough, and if this is indeed the one, his final pitch was a 92 mph fastball past Cleveland's Victor Martinez. But even Clemens admits he's not very good at retiring. Matsui and Damon are signed through 2009; Mussina has one year remaining.

What year was the first baseball game televised, and the teams?
-- Grace M., Tacoma, Wash.

Though it didn't involve the Yankees, it happened in New York. The first Major League game was televised on Aug. 26, 1939, from Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, with the Dodgers playing the Reds.

Whatever happened to Humberto Sanchez? He was the key piece in the Gary Sheffield deal. He got injured and I haven't heard of him since then, is there a reason?
-- Grant S., Wichita, Kan.

Sanchez had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery and was out for all of the 2007 season. Sanchez stopped by Yankee Stadium late in September and said his recovery was on track, and that the surgery had finally fixed the problems that had ailed him through his Tigers Minor League career. Look for him to be on a mound by the time Spring Training wraps up.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.