Wang has to go on the DL? Joba to the bullpen. Bullpen struggles? Joba to the bullpen. Phil Hughes makes an impressive 2009 debut? Joba to the bullpen. Ugh.
Fellow blog author, Bobby (formerly Fake IPK), emailed this morning with the following question:
So other than me picking him up in fantasy, what's been the reaction to Hughes so far? Are people saying that it's going to push Joba into the 'pen?
Since this question is likely flying through multiple factions of cyberspace, here is our answer - Only a fool would think that Joba is going back to the pen based on one great Hughes start. The general reaction is tempered excitement. Hughes can obviously have a huge impact on the 2009 Yankees, especially given the wait and see approach with Chien Ming Wang's availability as a viable major leage starter.
That being said, if Hughes is dominant (2007 Joba in the bullpen type of dominant), Wang shows promise in rehab, Joba is only giving 5 IP per start and the bullpen continues to falter, I can see the Yankees being forced into the Joba to the bullpen move.
So, what are some alternatives to simply moving Joba back to the bullpen IF the Yankees are faced with the highly enviable situation of 6 viable major league pitchers and only 5 spots in the rotation? For one, they could go with an unlikely and unorthodox 6 man rotation, alternatively skipping Hughes and Joba to keep their innings down. This probably won't happen.
But what if the Yankees really thought outside of the box and decided to move Chien Ming Wang to the bullpen? With Wang's repetoire mainly featuring a heavy sinker, the Yankees may have the 2000's version of Ramiro Mendoza on their hands - a guy who can come into the game in the middle innings and get huge double plays and save the game (even if a stupid stat isn't dedicated to it).
There are obviously obstacles that need to be overcome before making a switch like this. For one, Wang is an icon in his homeland of Taiwan, and it would likely be seen as a slap in the face if he was converted into a middle reliever. Wang showed signs of this when he refused to admit problems with his mechanics following the 22-4 Yankee Stadium debacle. Next is that Wang does have an injury history (shoulder) dating back to the beginning of the new millenium and tinkering with his role on the team might not be the best choice. Finally, the guy has already won 19 games twice in his relatively short career as a starter and he is only 28 years old.
We're not arguing with the idea that Joba would be the best reliever out of the 6 Yankee starters - he has already proven his dominance in that arena. Our argument is that out of the 6, Wang would be the least valuable in the rotation going forward (outside of Pettite, who is obviously not a bullpen candidate). The easy solution would be to send Hughes back to the minors, but we are operating under the assumption that Hughes continues to be dominant (we know - it's only one start).
So, hopefully we have turned the Joba to the bullpen debate into a Chien Ming Wang to the bullpen debate. That might not be better, but at least it is something new. Do any of the tens of NSI readers have an opinion? We just realized after writing this post that River Avenue Blues discussed Phil Hughes to the bullpen. Let us know your thoughts, in the comments.