Tampa Bay Rays: Could Joba Chamberlain Be Signed?

By Robbie Knopf

The Tampa Bay Rays’ bullpen has been struggling lately, and they have to think about shaking things up by adding another arm to the mix. Usually doing so requires giving up a prospect in a trade or halting a prospect’s development as a starter, but right now, there is an experienced reliever available for the Rays to sign for simply a minimal salary the remainder of the year: Joba Chamberlain. Should the Rays give him a chance?

Chamberlain, who Rays fans know well as a former Yankee, pitched to a solid 3.57 ERA in 63 innings for the Detroit Tigers last season. This year, however, has been another story. His 4.09 ERA in 22 innings looks fine while his 15-5 strikeout to walk ratio looks better than that, but he has also allowed 5 unearned runs–his run average is a terrifying 6.14–and that is only the start. He has allowed 5 home runs, 2.0 per 9 innings, and you can’t like anything about his 32 hits allowed in 22 frames either (13.1 per 9). He has been hit extremely hard.

A further negative is Chamberlain’s recent track record. His 2014 was fine, but he had a 4.74 ERA, an 8.6 K/9, a 4.6 BB/9, and a 1.6 HR/9 in 62.2 innings from 2012 to 2013. Since the Yankees made the mistake of converting him into a starting pitcher back in 2008, Chamberlain has posted an ERA below 4.30 just twice in eight seasons (2012 and 2014). On the other hand, his stuff is still very good and his poor results may be severe enough that he is available on a minor league deal.

According to Brooks Baseball, Chamberlain averaged 94.0 MPH on his fastball during his time with the Tigers this season, supplementing it with a mid-80’s slider and high-70’s curveball. That is certainly an arsenal that would fit in the late innings in theory, although he needs better command and pitch selection for that to become a reality. He was extremely prone to hanging his two breaking balls this year, and despite that, he was throwing his slider way more than his fastball against right-handed batters this season.

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The Rays have already seen Grant Balfour and Ernesto Frieri spend time at Triple-A Durham in 2015, and Chamberlain still has way higher upside than either of them. His stuff is worth a flier, and his fastball command hasn’t even been that bad. The key will be to fix his slider, and the Rays may even bring back the changeup that he threw earlier in his career–we know how much they like that pitch. There is no clear spot available for him on the big league roster right now, but if he pitches well at Durham, they would be happy to make room when rosters expand in September if not earlier.

Other teams may offer Joba Chamberlain more money and/or a guaranteed big league roster spot, but the Tampa Bay Rays can present their track record for fixing relief pitchers, which is unparalleled throughout baseball. His best move as he hopes to fulfill his former promise may be to take a minor league offer with the Rays that includes say a September 1st opt-out. The Rays have little to lose signing Chamberlain to such a deal, and neither does he. Giving up a little money now for the chance to resuscitate his career seems like an obvious choice if the Rays make him that offer.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Justin O’Conner Is Coming Together