New York Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain says he feels like he has "a new arm" following Tommy John surgery. When he returns to the Yankees -- probably around mid-season -- the question is, what will Chamberlain do with it?
Chamberlain will turn 27 before the 2012 season ends. That is still young, but he is now many years removed from the 'Joba-Mania' he stirred up when he debuted in 2007 as an unhittable reliever firing 100 miles-per-hour fastballs and unhittable sliders past overmatched major league hitters.
Things really haven't been the same for Joba since those midges attacked him during the 2007 playoffs in Cleveland. He's been good at times, even occasionally dominant. He has also been brutally bad at other times.
He has gone from possible successor to Mariano Rivera as closer, to potential great starter, to failed starter, to eighth-inning setup guy, to middle reliever. Now, he is just another pitcher rehabbing a broken wing and hoping to resuscitate his stalled career. He threw from a mound on Tuesday for the first time since his surgery.
Where will he go from here? Will the surgery restore the consistent upper 90s crackle to his fastball? The unbelievable bit to his slider? The fist-pumping in-your-face attitude that helped make him a Linsanity-like rock star long before Jeremy Lin burst on the scene? Or will Joba always be the guy we saw the last couple of seasons? That being an OK pitcher, a guy who can occasionally dominate and can be a useful part of your bullpen, but who will never be "the guy?"
Joba-Mania might have died long ago, but there should still be plenty of curiosity about what the future holds for Chamberlain. There have been whispers ever since he spent nearly a month on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation during the 2008 season -- the year the Yankees first tried to use him as a starter -- that perhaps Chamberlain has never truly been healthy ever since.
Post-surgery maybe we will see a Chamberlain much closer to the dominant guy he was when he entered the league. Rivera dropped a hint that he will retire at the end of the season, meaning a new closer would be needed. Could Chamberlain pitch his way into the mix for that role, or at least for a significant long-term role in the Yankees bullpen? There is still time for Chamberlain to return to being a difference-maker for the Yankees.
Regardless, what happens with Chamberlain is one of the most intriguing questions of the 2012 Yankee season.