Given how divisive an issue it once was in this town, it's remarkable that it has been about three years since anyone had a serious conversation about Joba Chamberlain being a starting pitcher for the Yankees.
Injuries and generally mediocre on-field results have combined to strip away whatever lingering shine still remained on Chamberlain's star from his brilliant debut into the Yankee consciousness. You don't even hear anyone talk about him as a potential replacement for Mariano Rivera as the team's closer.
He's seen as just another guy now, even if he still harbors thoughts of being more than a middle reliever in a deep bullpen. Chamberlain wants to start or close and feels confident in his ability to do both.
"I guess I'm trying to have my cake and eat it, too. I feel like I'm good enough to do both. I've proven that I can do both," Chamberlain told the Daily News. "Whatever it is, if I close, I want to be one or the other. I've been in the role of in the bullpen for a while, but am I confident that if I got the chance to start again somewhere – wherever that's at – I could do it? Without a doubt. I just have to focus on this year and what I can do to improve to help this team win, continue to try to win ballgames for them."
Asuterity measures don't extend to hypothetical arguments, it seems.
We're not here to reignite this debate. Chamberlain is in the right role for the Yankees, even if he understandably wants to be doing more.
While we aren't thinking about Joba moving back to the rotation, we are thinking about how bright the future of the Yankee pitching staff looked just a few short years ago and how much easier all of the cost-containment Brian Cashman's been doing would be if things had progressed as hoped. Both Chamberlain and Phil Hughes are coming into their final year under Yankee control and the team doesn't have much to show for it.
Hughes has settled into a role as a back-end starter, which is useful enough but hardly what the team had in mind when they drafted him in the first round. If he should prove to be something more this year, the Yankees will have to decide whether he's blossoming as he hits his prime or if that year will be an outlier for a player who would command a handsome sum as a free agent.
How much easier it would have been if Hughes had that year in 2010 or 2011 so that the Yankees could have locked him up then and avoided a bidding war for his services. Ditto Chamberlain, who seemed like a myth when he first appeared and hasn't stopped seeming like one the longer he's been around.
The current state of the Yankee roster, old and in stasis because of their desire to pare down costs heading into next season, is the result of years of questionable decisions. All of them would seem a lot less onerous if even one of the two past phenoms had turned out to be more than flashes in the pan.