December 12th, 2013

Tigers agree to terms with Joba Chamberlain

When Dave Dombrowski talked Thursday morning about looking to add another reliever before the offseason was done, he downplayed the chances of going out and getting a big-name setup man from the group of would-be closers. More likely, he said, they’d be looking down the market.

“I’m not talking about big-time bullpen arm, but somebody else that may fit in that could give us a little depth out there just in case something would happen from an injury perspective,” Dombrowski said. “Really, it’s more of a protection from the Rondon [injury comeback] case.”

Enter Joba Chamberlain on a one-year deal. ESPN’s Buster Olney put the base value at $2.5 million with incentives that could push it a little higher.

He fits the Tigers’ desire for a short-term deal. Whether he’s healthy and effective enough to fit the hope of a proven arm behind Rondon remains to be seen. It’s a relatively low risk for the money, though it’s also not far off from the $4 million option the Tigers declined on Jose Veras at season’s end.

The 28-year-old Chamberlain has spent the last three years working through injuries while trying to regain the form that allowed him to overpower hitters in his early years. He was a revelation in the Yankee bullpen late in the 2007 season, then tossed 100 quality innings split between starting and relieving in 2008.

After rotator cuff tendinitis near the end of that season and a nine-win season in the Yankees rotation in 2009, however, Chamberlain’s power arm showed signs of mortality. He moved back to the Yankee bullpen with some success in 2010 and had a statistically strong start in 2011, but elbow trouble led to Tommy John surgery that summer.

While working his way back from that surgery, Chamberlain suffered a potentially career-ending left ankle dislocation while playing with his son at a rec center. He recovered in time to pitch in 22 games down the stretch that season, but suffered through a nightmaring 2013 campaign that included a right oblique strain and

Chamberlain went 2-1 with a 4.93 ERA in 2013, allowing 47 hits over 42 innings with 26 walks and 38 strikeouts. His fastball, which averaged 97 mph as a rookie in 2007 while frequently approaching triple digits, has averaged more around 94-95 mph the last few years.

For Chamberlain, Detroit represents a fresh start outside of the New York spotlight. For the Tigers, Chamberlain represents a bounceback project who will be working with pitching coach Jeff Jones, who once made his living trying to help similar pitchers regroup while serving as pitching coach at Triple-A Toledo.