Indians Bolster Bullpen Depth, Add Joba Chamberlain

The Cleveland Indians announced Tuesday morning that the club had signed free agent reliever Joba Chamberlain to a minor league deal and has invited the right-hander to Spring Training. The nine-year Major League veteran spent last season with three different organizations.

He began the year with the Detroit Tigers in their bullpen but, after 30 games, was designated for assignment and released in early July. He signed with the Toronto Blue Jays later in the month and worked for the club’s Triple-A Buffalo team before exercising an opt-out clause in his contract on August 14th. He signed with the Kansas City Royals two days later and pitched for Triple-A Omaha before joining the Major League roster during the first week of September.

He worked in six games for the Royals during the season, but did not play in the postseason.

Chamberlain is a familiar face for Indians fans, who may best remember him for his rookie year relief appearance with the New York Yankees during the American League Division Series in 2007. With a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning, midges (small flying insects) became a noticeable distraction to the reliever on the mound. Despite being sprayed with bug spray, the pests persisted and Chamberlain’s effort suffered. He threw two wild pitches, allowing the tying run to score, and the Indians would ultimately win the game, 2-1.

He had been impressive in his debut season in 2007, less than one full year after signing with the Yankees. He was the club’s first round pick, 41st overall, in the 2006 draft out of the University of Nebraska. With the Yankees monitoring his work load, he went 2-0 in 19 games with a 0.38 ERA and 0.75 WHIP.

He moved into the rotation in 2008 and 2009 and struggled with control. His ERA bloated, as did his walk rate and home run rate. The team moved him back into a relief role permanently in the 2010 season and he has pitched from the bullpen ever since. It was said he had better velocity as a reliever than as a starter, which is normally the case, but injuries slowed him significantly during his return to the bullpen, including Tommy John surgery, an open dislocation of his ankle, and an oblique strain.

He became a free agent following the 2013 season and signed with the Detroit Tigers on a one-year, $2.5 million tender. He went 2-5 that season in 69 relief appearances with a 3.57 ERA and two saves.

He re-signed with the club at the start of spring training last season on a one-year, $1 million deal.

Chamberlain, who turned 30 in September, adds another candidate to a bullpen mix rather young and inexperienced beyond the closer Cody Allen and setup man Bryan Shaw. Zach McAllister has worked just one season in relief and Jeff Manship put together the best season of his career last year at the age of 30. Austin Adams has seen just 34 games of action over two seasons and Shawn Armstrong appeared in just eight games in his rookie season last year.

The club acquired reliever Kirby Yates last week in a cash exchange with the Tampa Bay Rays as another right-handed option for the relief corps.

Photo: John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports

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