Untouchable status humbles Joba
Free of trade rumors, Yanks righty prepares for change in role
NEW YORK -- Joba Chamberlain -- more than Phil Hughes, more than Ian Kennedy, more than just about any pitcher to wear pinstripes this decade -- is untouchable.
That's the notion that has helped keep Johan Santana a member of the Twins up until now, and it's the notion that aims to keep Chamberlain with the Yankees for quite some time. It's also the notion that makes Chamberlain blush just a little while addressing his future in the Bronx.
"It makes you feel good that your hard work has paid off and they see the potential," Chamberlain said. "That's a sketchy word in this game. There are a lot of guys with potential, but they understand my work ethic and everything that I want to do for this team."
Chamberlain ventured into Manhattan on Thursday to help dole out presents to 12 local students representing the New York City Police Athletic League. The event, held in conjunction with Modell's Sporting Goods, gave the youngsters a chance to sit with Chamberlain and Santa Claus, ask the pitcher questions -- everything from his role next year to how he dealt with those pesky midges in Cleveland -- and leave with a slew of memories and a Chamberlain jersey in tow.
And so on a day when he was busy touching so many other lives, Chamberlain reflected on what exactly it means to be untouchable.
It's one of the few things he's done since the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs almost two months ago. Chamberlain hasn't picked up a baseball since, instead concentrating on some mental improvements.
"I've done a lot of stuff to get my mind right," Chamberlain said. "You've got to take time for yourself and evaluate what happened and try to have an idea of what your plan is for the next year and how you're going to handle the failures and the success."
Chamberlain has earned one publicized advantage in that he knows his destination come spring. While some of his fellow Yankees were dangled in recent deals for Santana -- and could yet be dealt to the Twins or anyone else -- Chamberlain's name has been etched only into the Yankees' rotation.
And so that, more than anything, is his main concern. Blending into the rotation after a successful summer as a reliever won't be easy, even for an untouchable. Chamberlain spoke recently with Mariano Rivera about his situation, and the two agreed that converting from a reliever to a starter is far more difficult than the other way around.
At the least, the transition will force Chamberlain to rely much more on his curveball and changeup -- two pitches that made only a cameo in his arsenal last season.
"They're pitches that I didn't throw very much when I came up here, but they're pitches that I still have," Chamberlain said. "You never lose them. It's like riding a bike. You just have to get back on and do it again."
That's been the mantra for the Yankees this offseason, as it has for every offseason this decade. Just get back on and do it again.
Chamberlain will be a part of that, and he's waiting to find out exactly who the other parts will be. While he remains as safe as any young pitcher on the Yankees, he knows that apparent roster safety on the Yankees doesn't always mean a whole lot.
And, of course, neither do rumors.
"I learned real quick not to read too much," Chamberlain said. "But it's brought up. And whatever happens, it's all going to happen for a reason, and we're going to take what we've got and run with it."
Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.