Short of winning a World Series ring, 2015 was a year to forget for Joba Chamberlain. The right-hander was released from two organizations before latching on to the Royals, where he posted a 6.43 ERA in Triple-A Omaha and a 7.94 ERA in 5.2 big league innings.
Once a top prospect boasting a fastball in the triple-digits, Chamberlain now faces the possibility of signing a non-guaranteed contract and having to earn a job out of spring training. Chamberlain, whose early-career innings restrictions were infamously dubbed the "Joba Rules," has become a journeyman since his departure from the Yankees. Could a return to New York help get his career back on track?
Health issues have marred what was once a budding career for Chamberlain. He underwent Tommy John surgery during the 2011-2012 offseason, only to suffer a bizarre ankle injury the following year in a trampoline accident. Chamberlain's third disabled list stint came from a strained right side in 2013, a year in which he posted a then-career-worst 4.93 ERA. Though Chamberlain rebounded for a decent year out of the Tigers' bullpen in 2014, the wheels came off in 2015. The 30-year-old yielded six home runs in just 27.2 innings pitched, with three of them coming in just one appearance. After being granted his unconditional release from the Tigers in July, Chamberlain pitched in the minors for the Blue Jays and Royals before receiving a September call-up.
Though Chamberlain pitched to an abnormally high .368 BABIP at the major league level in 2015, diminished velocity seems to be the culprit of his fall from grace. Once boasting an average fastball velocity of 97.4 miles per hour in 2007, Chamberlain's fastball velocity has dropped to 93.4 and 93.8 in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Chamberlain relied on a combination of his fastball and slider a combined 81.8 percent of the time last season, leading to disastrous results. Though he's just one year removed from a 3.16 FIP, Chamberlain's peripherals at the major and minor league levels don't provide much reason for optimism. His strikeout rate dropped to 7.48 per nine innings last season, with his K/BB ratio sitting at 2.56.
Even with his dismal 2015 performance, a pitcher with Chamberlain's track record will generate some degree of interest on the open market. The obvious benefit to this type of signing is the cheap price tag Chamberlain would come with, in addition to the promise his live arm possesses. Chamberlain throws hard and straight, so not living in the middle of the plate will be imperative to his future success.
With a thin bullpen depth chart, the Mets will almost certainly be in the market for one or more relievers. Reclamation projects such as Chamberlain, Bobby Parnell, Vic Black, and others should be inexpensive and have modest upside, allowing teams to still pursue higher-end relief pitchers like Darren O'Day and Joakim Soria.