- Andrew Marchand, ESPN Senior Writer
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Is that it?
Are the closing credits on the Joba Chamberlain Yankee story already rolling? Will he just be remembered for saving the season in 2007, the midges, the Joba Rules, the to start-or-not-to start debate with the fizzle finally coming in 2010 when Chamberlain went from the bridge to Mariano Rivera to the bridge to nowhere? He was, as a headline writer on this site put it last month, Mr. Irrelevant in the playoffs this year.
Some Yankees decision-makers say no, Chamberlain, still just 25, is not done yet. He still could be an important Yankee and potentially the heir to Rivera's bullpen throne. But Chamberlain will have to earn everything he gets from here on out.
There will be no important jobs waiting for him. If he isn't traded, Chamberlain will enter spring training as a member of the bullpen with a chance to be the eighth-inning guy, but with no guarantees.
Last year, Chamberlain battled in spring training with Phil Hughes for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation, but the competition was rigged as the Yankees favored Hughes. Their decision ultimately proved correct.
Chamberlain got the eighth inning, but he couldn't hold onto it. GM Brian Cashman traded for Kerry Wood at the deadline. In an ideal world, the Yankees would love to hand Wood the eighth again, but Wood likely will be able to find closer money someplace else.
"I think Dave Robertson and Joba are both qualified and capable, without question," said GM Brian Cashman, noticeably listing Robertson before Chamberlain.
That leaves Chamberlain as a possibility to take his job back. At present, he will go into spring training, fighting with Robertson for the eighth inning. More likely, there will be a lot of competition for that role.
Chamberlain could make the eighth inning his again, but can he ever be that dominant force that took over New York baseball in the summer of 2007? That guy showed up and was untouchable. That guy was insanely good.
In 24 innings, he struck out 34 and allowed just one earned run. The butterfly effect was that he made the expectations impossible for anyone to follow. He hasn't been able to.
Chamberlain goes into this offseason with a chance to take a U-turn on his career. If not, he will just be a middling reliever with no real future with the Yankees.
The Yankees don't know exactly why Chamberlain hasn't fulfilled his promise. They don't buy into the theory that by shifting him from the bullpen to the rotation they messed with Chamberlain's head.
Chamberlain seemed to be settled for the first time this past season. There were none of the distractions of the past. After the spring, he knew he was a reliever. There were no innings limits or any other convenient excuses.
Chamberlain had fewer questions to answer, but he didn't seem to change in the clubhouse. His outgoing personality, joking with nearly everyone he saw, still filled the air, even when things were not going right.
Chamberlain never receded from the spotlight, but the spotlight is moving away from him.
Is Chamberlain's Yankee story almost over? Or is there a second act coming? Those are questions the Yankees will have to decide on this winter.
If he stays, he will do so having to earn what he gets next, because the days of Chamberlain being handed anything are over.
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