Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Effects Of The Joba Ankle Injury

(Courtesy of MCT/Christopher Pasatieri)

With the good news continuing to come out on Joba's dislocated ankle, it looks like the worst-case scenarios that were in play earlier yesterday are no longer a concern.  He's going to be released from the hospital tomorrow and there is still mention of him possibly getting back on a mound in July to start/continue his rehab.  That being said, factoring in the lost time in his TJS rehab that will occur because of this injury and the delicate nature in which his ankle rehab will have to take place because of it being his push-off leg, I think it's safe to say that we won't see Joba in any kind of game action in 2012.  With that being the case, here are the effects that Joba's absence will have this season and beyond.

1) The Yankee Bullpen in 2012

The effect here actually won't be so bad, if there even is any effect.  Joba was already set to miss at least half of this season recovering from TJS, and with the time it typically takes for a pitch to regain his form completely after coming back there was little chance of Joba being a major contributor once he did get into game action.  The current depth in the Yankee 'pen would have allowed them to use Joba in low-leverage innings to test his stuff out, find his command, and get an early start on preparing for 2013.  With Mo, D-Rob, Soriano, Logan, Wade, Garcia, and a stockpile of young arms, the Yankee bullpen won't lose much by not having Joba in the 2nd half.

2) The Yankees Bullpen After 2012

This is where the loss of Joba could start to be significant.  With all signs pointing to Mo retiring after this season and Soriano's contract up after 2013, suddenly the Yankees' late-inning depth isn't so deep.  Joba, at age 26 and still making very team-friendly money, could have been in line to re-establish himself as one of the Yankees' late-inning aces like he was in 2007.  He's done it before, proving he can handle the pressure, and he has always had very good relief numbers.  But it still remains to be seen how his game will be affected by the Tommy John and now the ankle injury raises an even bigger question as to what type of pitcher he will be when he is able to pitch again.  If Joba can't regain his form, that's one less power arm in the future Yankee bullpen.

3) Cory Wade Breathes a Sigh of Relief

As I touched on earlier in the week, Wade would have been among the first bullpen heads to get chopped off in the summer when Joba was ready to make his return, whether he was pitching like crap or pitching lights out.  He also hasn't looked particularly sharp this spring, giving up 12 hits and 6 earned runs in just 7.1 innings pitched and failing to get through the 8th inning the other night pitching against the Fraud Sawx's MiL fodder.  But with Joba out of the picture, Wade can feel a little more comfortable that his past performance in 2011 will help him hold his spot through the summer, at least until Aardsma is ready to go.

4) The Young Guys

The window being shut on Joba's 2012 serves to open another window of opportunity for the gaggle of useful Triple-A arms, who now all move one spot forward in line for the last bullpen spot AND as potential replacements for Wade should his ineffectiveness continue into the regular season.  Kevin Whelan has looked good in his limited number of ST appearances, as has the recently returned George Kontos.  And guys like Phelps, Warren, and D.J. Mitchell, who would be the first in consideration for taking over Freddy's long man spot should the Yankees trade him, also stand to get a longer look as back-end bullpen options for short relief roles as well.  The Yankees have shown their willingness to break guys in that way before;  just look at Hector Noesi last season.

5) Joba's Yankee Career

The biggest effect felt by Joba's ankle injury might very well be on Joba's career as a Yankee.  He is only making a shade over $1.6 million this year as an arbitration-eligible player, so the Yankees are not on the hook for anything major in terms of money or years.  But he would be set to become a free agent next year, and if his rehab from both injuries doesn't go well and he isn't ready to go for next season, the Yankees could decide to non-tender him and spend that bit of money elsewhere to fill out their 2013 roster.  The benefits of being young, effective, and cheap are only beneficial when you're on the field contributing.  Given Joba's history with the organization, I think the Yankees would try to bring him back on a cheap deal, but that option could be lost if they're forced to make other moves.  This situation is a long way off, but worth considering.

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