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Missteps with Joba robs Yankees, fantasy owners of starting talent

The Yankees are a pretty clever organization. Instead of making the early reporting focus on the issues surrounding the last two spots in the rotation, they drop a bombshell on poor whipping boy Joba Chamberlain and say, yeah, he's big.

"He's heavier -- let's just leave it at that," GM Brian Cashman said.

But, they buried the lead: The sky is blue, water is wet and there is nothing more certain than death and taxes.

Joba is heavy. No kidding?

When everyone should be asking how the heck the Yankees, who lost out on every premium free-agent horse this winter, including Cliff Lee, are going to fill out their rotation, a dead horse is beaten with Joba instead.

And no one, namely the media, is currently holding the Yankees accountable for the fact Chamberlain should have long been a 15-game winner by now for fantasy owners.

The Yankees cooked up the Joba Rules, but now they have conjured up the Joba Scape Goat.

And, hey, Yankees -- depending on which stories you read -- how about spinning the yarn that the added weight on Chamberlain is actually bulk, not fat? He did lift his shirt to show a flatter stomach, according to MLB.com.

Instead: "He's heavier -- let's just leave it at that."

Why in the world would the Yankees go so far as to suggest Joba is overweight? Instead of criticizing him, they should be prepping him to be the No. 4 starter.

Nope. They are content to go with two of Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova.

Seriously?

That is the best the richest team money buy can do with the back end of their rotation?

Two shoulder injury has-beens in Colon and Garcia, one Tommy John reclamation project in Mitre and one moderate prospect in Nova. These guys are really better than the one-time second coming of Roger Clemens, a barrel-chested Midwest farm boy?

The Yankees (read: Cashman) say Joba lost his velocity in August 2008 after moving to the starting rotation. Lost velocity is the reason, err excuse, for saying he is a full-time reliever at age 25.

Joba's velocity goes down as a starter, eh? This isn't obvious?

"It used to be the same out of the rotation and the bullpen -- it played the same," Cashman told MLB.com. "Now, when you scout him, it's not. It's radically different out of the bullpen.

"I get a kick out of when people [say], 'Oh, they're so indecisive. They don't know what to do with him.' No. The stuff used to be equal. It's not equal anymore."

Of course a first-time, young starter is going to lose velocity late in the year!

Isn't that what the Joba Rules were all about? They were about preserving and conditioning a young shoulder systematically to become a horse for the 30-plus start, 200-inning grind. Until a shoulder is built up to that point, it is going to balk at you.

The Yankees messed it all up. Legendarily.

They jerked him around because they needed a quick-fix, late-inning reliever to set up for Mariano Rivera in a pennant race. They rushed him to the majors and thrust him into a relief role he had never filled before in his life -- in New York pressure-cooker heat -- without conditioning to do so.

Joba developed a shoulder injury in August '08 after making his first 12 major-league starts. Yankees, you had that coming to you. It happens to young pitchers, fantasy owners beware.

Instead of treating Joba's shoulder as one that was saying, "Hey, cool me off before you start me back up again," the Yankees shut it down and pigeon-holed him as a reliever.

He was, and we suppose will forever be, the posterboy for the Pitch-22, the Catch-22 of pitchers: Good enough to start, but too valuable in relief.

Well, the Yankees no longer need a quick-fix, late inning setup man. They signed closer Rafael Soriano from the division-rival Rays to do that. They developed David Robertson into a serviceable right-hander. And they have two of the best situational lefties in baseball with Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte. Those are four quality arms to support Rivera.

Is Joba really only good enough to be the No. 6 reliever in the Yankees' bullpen?

No, he should be the No. 4 starter, and a perennial 15-game winner by now.

The Yankees blew it. Clever or stupid, it's all bad news for fantasy owners. And somehow the Yankees are getting away with blaming Joba "the Gut" himself.

Projected rotation

1 CC Sabathia LH2 A.J. Burnett RH3 Phil Hughes RH4 Nova RH5 Garcia RHALT Colon RH

Top bullpen arms

CL Rivera RHSU Soriano RHRP Feliciano LHRP Robertson RHRP Marte LHRP Joba Chamberlain RHRP Mitre RH

Assuming the Yankees don't get surprised by the bulked-up Joba this spring and change their tune on having him start, you have to assume Nova is going to win the No. 4 starter's spot and be a potential steal for fantasy owners in the late rounds.

Nova is a 24-year-old right-hander who can win double-digit games for this potent Yankees team if he can make 30 starts and pitch 180 innings. He isn't quite a top prospect but he has shown decent stuff in stretches. He needs to move up the starting pitcher rankings just after the top 100 and should appear in the top rookies to target in the late rounds.

Garcia is a much better bet to serve as the No. 5 starter over the "heavy" Colon. (Hey, Yankees, where were the statements about Colon's weight? It should be a much bigger issue with someone who has been out of the game.)

History has shown, though, pitchers who had major shoulder surgery never regain their velocity. Garcia and Colon are two prime examples. They might prove useful in stretches for fantasy owners, but they are going to need some breathers and DL stints throughout the season.

Mitre is a decent fall-back guy, but he looks to be more of a swing man out of long relief to open the season. It hardly makes him worth drafting in fantasy.

The Yankees rotation is a mess and clearly the third-best -- if not worse -- in the AL East, behind the Red Sox and Rays.

According to reports, the No. 3 player in fantasy was arrested on suspicion for DUI Wednesday night. For most players, that would merely be a blip on their resume and might not affect their draft position.

For Cabrera, it probably should.

Miggy was already a candidate for alcohol rehab after the '09 season when he had issues with excessive drinking and a domestic dispute with his wife that affected a critical Tigers game in a pennant race in the final week of the season. He swore he was off alcohol cold turkey last year when he posted one of the best seasons of his career.

He is now 27, coming off a huge year and was expected to go in the top five of fantasy, if not second to Albert Pujols.

Well, here's to not picking him second, or even third. In fact, in the top five, take the player who isn't an alleged drunk again.

A new top five if you take Miggy out:

1. 1B Pujols, STL ... Says "he is better than ever"2. SS Hanley Ramirez, FLA ... A 27-year-old off a down year3. OF Ryan Braun, MIL ... He has a contract-year Prince Fielder behind him4. OF Carlos Gonzalez, COL ... .330-30-110-110-25 is just too good to pass up5. SS Troy Tulowitzki, COL ... Another 27-year-old SS, but in a better park

Russell Branyan, the Paul Bunyan of waiver-wire fantasy sluggers, has signed with the D'backs. He figures to hold down first base until an unproven younger player wrests the position from him.

You have to figure Branyan will hit cleanup in this order. A new look at the D'backs potential lineup:

Projected lineup

1 Stephen Drew SS2 Kelly Johnson 2B3 Justin Upton RF4 Russell Branyan 1B5 Chris Young CF6 Melvin Mora 3B7 Miguel Montero C8 Xavier Nady LF

Top bench options

R Gerardo Parra OFR Tony Abreu UTLR Brandon Allen 1B

Branyan ranks just outside the top 30 of SI.com's fantasy first basemen. There will certainly be stretches where the streaky slugger proves useful in any fantasy league in that hitter's park this summer -- for as long as his chronically balky back holds up.

• A couple of free-agent veterans found homes this week, but they probably still are not in good enough situations to be useful in standard fantasy leagues. You probably shouldn't draft them unless you're in a deep rotisserie league.

• Orlando Cabrera signed to play second base for the Indians, teaming with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. They are affectionately calling each other uncle and nephew, but they are of no relation.

• Scott Podsednik got a deal with the Blue Jays and he will compete for at-bats with CF Rajai Davis, RF Travis Snider and LF Juan Rivera. Posednik can still slap his way to .280 with around 30 steals even if he is a part-timer. That makes him intriguing enough for steals in Rotisserie formats.

• Also, the contract years list is dwindling by the hour. Rickie Weeks got a long-term deal, while Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Bautista sound like they are close to getting theirs, too. It shouldn't affect these guys values too much, but it would have been a lot cooler if they were motivated for a huge year like Pujols and CC Sabathia, who can opt out of his deal with the Yankees.

• Oh joy, another potential rotation issue for those Yankees. Don't feel sorry for them. It's not worth it.

Eric Mack writes bi-weekly for SI.com. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.

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