Kevin Youkilis, Joba Chamberlain ‘Feud’ Overblown, But Duo’s Performance Could Be Real Issue for Yankees

Kevin Youkilis, Joba ChamberlainThis isn’t what Joba Chamberlain had in mind when he took Carly Rae Jepsen‘s advice earlier this offseason.

Chamberlain decided to call Kevin Youkilis, whom he’s developed quite the rivalry with over the years, shortly after Youk signed with the Yankees as a free agent. The only problem is that Youkilis didn’t answer, forcing Chamberlain to leave a voice mail that has since gone unreturned.

No biggie, right? Well, it shouldn’t be, yet Chamberlain sounds like a man who is a little perturbed by the lack of response from his former adversary and current teammate.

“I did everything I can do,” Chamberlain told the New York Daily News. “I can’t control what Kevin Youkilis does. I can only control what I do and, you know what, we’ll go on from there.”

Chamberlain’s right — he can really only control what he does. It just so happens that has included whizzing 95-mph fastballs by Youkilis’ head on a number of occasions while Youk was wearing a Red Sox uniform. Now, with Youkilis suddenly crossing over to Chamberlain’s side of the Boston-New York rivalry, the Yankees reliever is learning firsthand the ill effects of ruffling feathers by way of beanballs and chin music.

“I’m bound to run into him at some point,” Chamberlain said. “Sooner rather than later. We’ll see what happens. We’re grown men.”

The fact that Chamberlain and Youkilis are “grown men” is the reason this should be a non-story. Many hockey players, for example, kiss and make up after beating each other’s heads in, largely because they are “grown men” who understand the less-than-pleasant interactions they’re bound to have at some point while playing a competitive sport. Many feuding baseball players can claim to have reconciled as well, and if a team is truly going to strive toward the ultimate goal of a World Series, it’s essential for players to avoid bickering like an old married couple because of what happened when the two players were in opposing dugouts.

However, despite that notion that two adults should be able to bury the hatchet in the interest of the team, how the two could coexist immediately became a talking point after Youkilis signed his one-year deal with the Yankees. And by not returning Chamberlain’s call (if that happens to be the case), Youkilis is further perpetuating — intentionally or unintentionally — the unnecessary gossip.

Fans and pundits can take whichever side they want. Chamberlain was the aggressor over the years, consistently gunning at Youkilis, while Youkilis should probably accept the olive branch that’s been extended to him. At the end of the day, though, none of the childish behavior should matter, it likely won’t matter and everyone’s probably making way too much out of nothing — if for no other reason than awkwardness makes us chuckle.

What really matters to the 2013 version of the Yankees is that both Chamberlain and Youkilis go out and do their jobs, or the Yanks just might find themselves taking a step backward this season.

Chamberlain set the bar high for his career following his 2007 and 2008 campaigns, as he was an imposing pitcher who hitters genuinely didn’t want to dig in against. Armed with a fastball that sat in the 95-98-mph range and topped out around 100 mph, Chamberlain thrived in his role as a reliever, and the idea of the big righty setting up for the legendary Mariano Rivera quickly became a scary proposition. That, of course, was until the Bronx Bombers unwisely decided to convert Chamberlain back into a starter, at which point he was no longer the same daunting hurler. His velocity dipped (rather significantly), he lacked the same movement on his cutter and slider, and he thus didn’t possess the same ability to get batters to swing and miss.

Now, with the whole starting experiment in the rear-view mirror, Chamberlain will be called upon to play a big role in 2013. He’ll likely take over the Yankees’ seventh-inning duties, with Rivera returning from his injury, Rafael Soriano departing via free agency and David Robertson shifting up into an eight-inning role. That means Chamberlain will be a key component of bridging the gap between the Yankees’ rotation — which was middle of the pack last season — and the vaunted back end of the New York pen.

Youkilis faces no easy task, either, as he’s the guy filling in for Alex Rodriguez down at the hot corner. Even if A-Rod is no longer the same A-Rod, that’s still a scary proposition, especially when you consider that by signing Youkilis, the Yankees are paying $12 million for a player whose skills have already begun to diminish.

The sooner everyone realizes that the Youkilis-Chamberlain “feud” might actually be no more real than a unicorn, the sooner we can focus on the tangible on-field issues the Yankees will face if neither of those players performs up to snuff. We’ll likely all gain a little sleep in the process as well.

Joba Chamberlain photo (right) via Flickr/Keith Allison