Summing up the proper reaction to today’s Joba Chamberlain signing is best done with body language – a shrug. Chamberlain is coming to Detroit on a one year, $2.5 million deal with some additional incentives built in. In baseball, $2.5 million is nothing, so it’s hard to get worked up about adding Chamberlain to the bullpen. It’s not a big contract and if it doesn’t work out, no harm done.
But that doesn’t mean you should expect much from Joba. You remember his name because he burst onto the scene as a dynamite reliever for the Yankees, but that was a long, long time ago. In 2007-2010, he bounced between the rotation and the pen. He did solid work out there, and was reasonably good in 2011 in limited innings. In 2012, he didn’t pitch much and was worse. In 2013, he pitched more, and was a lot worse.
He has command issues and the strikeouts aren’t what they were way back in his heyday. He’s been more hittable and didn’t induce as many swings in 2013 as he had in the past. He has a nice fastball and slider, but he really struggles to command them. Maybe he can get it together, but you absolutely shouldn’t count on him being a key piece of the pen. This isn’t an elite setup arm – it’s a guy who might be able to fill that role, but is probably more of a middle reliever type. Definitely the third best righty, maybe the fourth best – and there are durability concerns.
For $2.5 million, that’s fine, but you’re running out of space to make a significant upgrade to your roster. Nathan replaces Benoit for an upgrade, but a more expensive one. Krol is a downgrade from Smyly. Rondon is Rondon. Coke and Crosby will look for the #2 lefty spot. Add in Joba and you’re at five relievers. Alburquerque, if healthy, makes six, and he was on the roster last year. If you carry a long man, you’ve filled the staff. Maybe you can find a better #2 lefty, but even that doesn’t give you much of a chance to make a difference. The Tigers bullpen will probably be about the same as last year in terms of quality – it just got more expensive in the process.
I was very pleased with the Fielder deal to free up money for other moves. Then they traded Fister to free up more money. With all that new cash, they signed a Nathan, Davis, and Joba. Those are all fine pieces, but the team is worse than they were in 2013. The short term cash went to waste. Maybe the offseason isn’t over, but the Tigers look to be retooling for the future while trying to tread water in the present. Signing an expensive closer while building for the future is perplexing, but that seems to be the plan. Maybe it isn’t and maybe there’s still another deal coming. But time is running out.