Yanks wrestle (again!) with No. 5 starter

Ah, another welcome sign of a spring: via Joel Sherman, we revisit the 2010 roles of the Yankees' talented-but-ill-defined young pitchers.

    It was impossible to ignore, and the Yankees didn't ignore it.

    Words were not needed. Joba Chamberlain's body language screamed confidence and the scoreboard flashed 97 mph. Here at the end of his most taxing season, Chamberlain was a strutting fire-breather again. In the postseason. As a reliever.

    The difference from the starter who too often was tentative and too frequently throwing fastballs at 89-91 mph was stark. As one Yankees official noted recently, "It was hard to miss."

    The transformation was so blatant, in fact, that the No. 5 starter competition between Chamberlain and Phil Hughes is almost over two weeks before pitchers and catchers even report.

    The Yankees never would admit it publicly, but if the season were to begin today, Hughes would be in the rotation and Joba would be Mariano Rivera's primary set-up man -- and, perhaps, heir apparent.


    And, really, the bigger question the Yanks might want to ask in spring is not Joba vs. Hughes as much as 2010 vs. the future.

    Because aren't the 2010 Yanks much better if both Joba and Hughes are in the bullpen? Think about it.

    As long as they have health with their main veteran starters -- Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte and Javier Vazquez -- the importance of a No. 5 man dims.

Of the three options here, Jason Rosenberg says Sherman is ignoring the best of them: committing to Chamberlain as the No. 1 option for No. 5 starter in spring training.

I don't know if Jason's right. I do think that Sherman is wrong.

Yes, the Yankees will score so many runs that they'll get 10 wins from their No. 5 starters, no matter who they are. But those games do count. Why not try to get a dozen wins from their No. 5 starters? Or even 15? It wasn't so long ago that both Chamberlain and Hughes were regarded as future aces. Wasn't that recent enough where it's still worth finding out?

But my real problem with using Chad Gaudin or whoever in the No. 5 slot isn't that you're opening the season with one weak spot in the rotation, it's that if one of the top four guys gets hurt, suddenly you've got two weak spots because neither Hughes nor Chamberlain will be ready to step right in as No. 4.

Obviously, there's not room in the rotation right now for both of them. The single biggest question for the Yankees in March will be which of them has the inside track. Jason thinks it should be Chamberlain. My gut tells me it should be Hughes. But the truth is that we're essentially guessing, and that the Yankees will have to do a little guessing, too.

They shouldn't tell us that, though. They should enter spring training with a plan and stick to it for as long as they reasonably can. I believe they'll do this, because they've done it before. In the face of intense skepticism and criticism, the Yankees stuck with the Joba Rules and the ultimate result was 1) Joba staying reasonably healthy and 2) the Yankees winning a World Series.

Whatever Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi decide, I suspect I'll be on their side.