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Yankees seeking some relief

Chamberlain’s injury latest blow

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 10, 2011

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NEW YORK — The Red Sox have had their own bullpen problems, mainly Bobby Jenks, whom they signed to a two-year, $12 million deal, and he’s spent most of his time on the disabled list. But the Yankees really have relief problems now.

When Joba Chamberlain was diagnosed with a ligament tear in his right elbow, which will likely necessitate Tommy John surgery, it meant the Yankees have likely lost their two primary setup men for the season. Rafael Soriano may also be facing the same surgery, but Dr. James Andrews has recommended extensive rest before making that decision.

So now the Yankees are stuck. They’ll have to use Dave Robertson and a bunch of nobodies for the time being.

The Yankees will have to trade a prospect for a setup man, something general managers never want to do. It’s the last thing Brian Cashman wants to do, so he’ll likely try to get by as long as he can with the collection of guys he has.

And when he does make a deal, he’ll have to hold his breath.

After all, relievers come and go, fade in and out. Two Yankee discards — Alfredo Aceves with the Red Sox and Kyle Farnsworth with the Rays, are pitching well. Farnsworth has converted 13 of 14 save situations. So you never know.

The Yankees will consider a plethora of relievers, mostly from last-place teams like San Diego (Mike Adams and Heath Bell) and Washington (Tyler Clippard). The Twins could trade Matt Capps, who might fit as a setup guy. The Twins may be in the market for a young catcher/bat and would likely be intrigued by Jesus Montero, who is hitting .294 in Triple A.

The Cubs have Kerry Wood, who pitched for the Yankees last year and is battle-tested in the AL East, although he is having a so-so year.

It’s amazing that a team with a $207 million payroll is in this predicament, but it did spend a small fortune on Soriano, a lights-out closer with the Rays last year, and he just hasn’t worked out. Earlier this season they lost lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano whose shoulder gave out after three straight seasons with 80-plus appearances with the Mets. They lost another lefty — Damaso Marte — before that.

The Yankees’ bullpen woes are significant because their rotation isn’t very good either. The bullpen was already stressed. Now it’s in critical condition.

Other than CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon — and who knows how long his success will last — the rest of the staff is an adventure. Cashman needs to upgrade all phases. Does he have the chips to do it? Of course, but as he told this correspondent a couple of weeks back, “We’d rather keep those chips to help our own team.’’ He may not be able to do that.

“I think the rest of baseball is going to lick their chops,’’ said one veteran scout last night. “They know the Yankees have a need, a deep need, and the price for what they want is going to be high. It’s a good position for a second-division team which is trying to sell off a veteran starter or reliever because the return is going to be pretty good. The Yankees have some good prospects.’’

Chamberlain had finally found himself as a setup man. For years the Yankees protected him with the “Joba Rules,’’ which limited his innings and appearances. They toyed with him as a starter in 2009 and then sent him back to the pen. All the safeguards, and none of them worked.

“It’s something I didn’t expect with no pain,’’ he said. “The most frustrating part is not being there for the team. [But] everything happens for a reason. I’ll come back and be even stronger.’’

Chamberlain, who had 12 holds and a 2.83 ERA in 28 2/3 innings, said he doesn’t have a clue how the injury happened. He did feel tightness in the elbow on Tuesday and went for an MRI on Wednesday.

“I was just trying to get out of there before I broke down,’’ said Chamberlain. “I shed a couple tears. [But] you can’t let it beat you. You gotta get stronger and get better.’’

Andrews will ultimately determine whether Chamberlain will have Tommy John surgery, but it sure appears that way.

While the Red Sox have had Jenks and Dan Wheeler spend time on the DL and have lost lefty specialist Rich Hill to elbow surgery as well, they have persevered. Daniel Bard is still upright. Matt Albers has been very good. And Aceves has been a godsend and a double-whammy for the Yankees.

With good teams, bullpens are very important. The Yankees started the year with arguably the best one. They had it all set up — Soriano, Chamberlain, Robertson, and Feliciano setting up Mariano Rivera.

And now they’re as thin as can be.

They’re going to have to make a trade they never wanted to make.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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