Chamberlain’s free-agent status perplexing as spring training nears

Where have you gone, Joba Chamberlain?

On the scale of free-agent mysteries, Chamberlain’s case isn’t as perplexing as, say, James Shields’. Still, Chamberlain at 29 is the youngest right-handed reliever on the open market. He had a presentable season in 2014, though his second half was sub-par, as was his performance in the playoffs. Yet, with February just days away, Chamberlain remains unsigned.

He isn’t alone — Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano and Burke Badenhop are among the other right-handed relievers who remain free agents, Phil Coke and Joe Thatcher among the lefties. And in truth, Chamberlain remains available by his own choice — he has rejected multiple offers from teams he did not want to join, according to a source with knowledge of his thinking.

At this point, Chamberlain knows that he is unlikely to meet his goal of a two-year deal and is considering a one-year offer with a relatively low base salary and incentives, the source said. Chamberlain made $2.5 million with the Tigers last season, and finished with a 3.57 ERA in 63 innings. His adjusted ERA, however, indicated that his overall mark should have been lower.

The second half proved Chamberlain’s undoing — his strikeout-to-walk ratio cratered, and opponents batted .271 with a .726 OPS after the All-Star Game, as opposed to .226 with a .590 OPS before. Part of the problem was that Chamberlain spent considerable time tending to his ailing mother, often leaving the team on off-days to be with her in Lincoln, Neb.

“Joba’s had some issues family-wise,” Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit Free Press after the team clinched the AL Central. “His mom’s been very sick. People don’t realize how that has affected him at times.”

Rival executives, though, still question Chamberlain’s makeup, a concern that first surfaced during his days with the Yankees. One exec also said that it alarmed him that the Tigers, for all their bullpen troubles, are not bringing Chamberlain back.

Chamberlain is said to be working hard, and has even shaved his beard. Now, he just needs to find a new home.