Guess what? The Great Joba Debate lives on!

Joba ChamberlainWere you as surprised as I was that we’re talking about Joba Chamberlain, the starting pitcher, again? This is just proof that if you wait long enough, everything eventually comes back into style.

Back in the summer of 2009, I remember working on a feature for MLB.com about The Great Joba Debate. That story included a lengthy phone interview with New York sports personality Mike Francesa, who had filled hours upon hours of air time by banging on his desk and insisting that Joba Chamberlain belonged in the Yankees’ bullpen, not their rotation.

Back then, Chamberlain was in the middle of an ’09 campaign that produced mixed results as a starting pitcher. He’d be moved to the bullpen for the playoffs, as the Yankees took advantage of the postseason schedule and rode to a World Series title with a three-man rotation Chamberlain stayed in the bullpen, never to return.

General manager Brian Cashman later revealed that an Aug. 2008 shoulder injury changed the Yanks’ thinking on Chamberlain, believing he no longer profiled as an effective starting pitcher.

“Since the injury in Texas, his stuff is different now,” Cashman said in January 2011. “We’ve seen over time that his stuff plays so much better as a reliever since he hurt his shoulder … I’ve answered the Joba thing enough. I think everybody knows the answer to that. Joba is in the bullpen, and I think everybody is happy with that.”

Well, maybe not everybody. As Chamberlain said on Tuesday in Clearwater, he wants another crack at starting or closing in the future. As a free agent after this season, he might just get that chance. It’s not unthinkable that a team would sign Chamberlain and bring him to camp to audition as a fifth starter (hey, the Royals gave Kyle Farnsworth a crack at breaking their rotation a few years ago), using the bullpen as a fallback landing spot.

The problem is, for Chamberlain, that team will not be the Yankees. It’s clear how they feel about Chamberlain in the rotation, and with Mariano Rivera and David Robertson ahead on the closing depth chart, Chamberlain wouldn’t figure to see very many save opportunities down the line in pinstripes. Cashman has no interest in reviving The Great Joba Debate, but there are 29 other GMs in the game who might at least consider it.

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