On Wednesday, the debate about Joba Chamberlain's best spot on the Yankee pitching staff flared up for the gazillionth time with the winds shifting toward bullpen duty for the time being. That leaves Phil Hughes as the top contender for the fifth spot in the rotation, but however things shake out there was another story Wednesday that made the development of one or the other as a top-flight starter a little more important.
The Tigers signed Justin Verlander to a five-year, $80 million contract extension, taking another young pitcher off the free agent market for the near future. Felix Hernandez re-upped with the Mariners earlier this offseason, Roy Halladay will be with the Phillies until he's 38 and the Marlins actually committed some money to Josh Johnson. Zach Greinke, Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester went off the market earlier and you have to think that guys like Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum will be given tempting offers from the Giants at some point soon.
That's a lot of pitching talent that won't be hitting the open market to be feasted upon by the many Yankee millions. There are others who could still be free agents, like Josh Beckett and Cliff Lee, but they'll be in their 30's with a lot of miles on their engines when their time comes. And, since he came up, wouldn't the Red Sox letting Beckett walk be a bit of a red flag? All of a sudden, CC Sabathia seems like a bargain signing.
With Andy Pettitte getting older and Javier Vazquez on the last year of his deal, the Yankees could find themselves awfully short of pitching when the 2010 season comes to an end. If neither Chamberlain or Hughes has stepped into the void and established themselves as a reliable arm, they're going to have to go shopping and they won't be able to be any choosier about price tags than a parent buying medicine for their sick kids.
Developing your own players may be more important now than at any other point since the Yankees started their run in 1996. That means taking some lumps and banking on future performances during present struggles, something that is hard to do when you feel entitled to winning every season. Unless the Yankees want to go back to the days of Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright and insert mediocre ace here, howver, they may not have any other choice.
You're not going to hear a better argument for putting Joba in the rotation and letting him ride, no matter what the latest smoke signals out of Yankee camp have to say for themselves.