Yanks likely to stand pat at deadline

Can anyone rescue Joba Chamberlain? Anyone at all? The question is more like a plea from the Yankees, who are counting on the troubled reliever to re-discover his 2007 prime before it’s too late.

Why is Chamberlain’s success so critical to the Bombers? Two reasons: first, other than Mariano Rivera, there’s no one else in the bullpen who Joe Girardi can trust, and the manager has made it clear he’s going to avoid using Rivera for more than three-out saves, even in the playoffs.

Second, the Diamondbacks’ strong interest in Chamberlain is one of the reasons the Yankees pulled away from a potential deal for Dan Haren, clearing the way for the Angels to land Haren on Sunday night.

The Yankees liked Haren — but not nearly to the extent they were committed to Cliff Lee. Obviously, Haren was attractive to the Bombers because he’s a perennial 15-game winner who hasn’t turned 30 yet. But GM Brian Cashman was wary of the 23 home runs Haren has allowed (second most in the majors) and the 50 percent jump in his ERA this year — all the way to 4.60, in a weaker league, no less. It was enough to keep the Chamberlain off the table, as well as catching prospect Jesus Montero.

That’s why Cashman had no regrets when his discussions with Arizona cooled on Saturday. If the Yankees act before the trade deadline expires, it’ll be for a spare part like Ty Wigginton, who could spell Alex Rodriguez with more power than his current understudy, Ramiro Pena.

In all likelihood, though, the core of the Yankee team will remain unchanged before Game 1 of the ALDS. That speaks to the organizational calm that prevails under Cashman’s current reign. In another era, when George Steinbrenner was at his over-reactive peak, the Bombers would’ve panicked at Andy Pettitte’s stint on the DL, or Phil Hughes’ 5.47 ERA since June 1.

Instead, Cashman will stash the $33 million that Haren would’ve cost the Yankees over the next 2.5 years and will instead use those resources to pursue Lee as a free agent.

But such restraint will pay off only if Pettitte returns from the DL in 2-3 weeks instead of 4-6, as the original prognosis suggested. The lefthander, who suffered a Grade-2 strain of his left groin, is telling reporters that he’s already long-tossing without pain, which means the Yankees would have to suffer with Sergio Mitre as Pettitte’s replacement for only a couple more starts.

The other conditional here is Chamberlain, who again pitched poorly in the Yankees’ 12-6 win over the Royals on Sunday. His ERA climbed to just under 6.00 after surrendering a two-run HR to Scott Podsednik in the eighth inning, and was later singled out by Joe Girardi.

“(Chamberlain) wasn’t sharp, and when you come out of the bullpen you have to be sharp,” the manager said. Chamberlain’s continuing struggle has left the bullpen in virtual disarray: the Yankees are eighth in the American League with a bullpen ERA of 4.07 — and that’s including Rivera’s 0.98 mark. Without the great closer, Yankee relievers are at 4.58, which equals the Mariners’ last-place ERA.

Cashman would love to find a reliever he can count on, but the market for that kind of late-inning help is almost non-existent. The most realistic option will be to send Hughes to the ‘pen when he reaches his innings-limit in September, but that means another six weeks of waiting for the real (or the old) Chamberlain to emerge — assuming that pitcher can still be recycled.

Chamberlain still lights up the radar gun at 95 mph. And, given his youth (24) and relatively affordability ($487,000 salary for 2010) he’d be any small-market team’s dream. No wonder the Diamondbacks wanted him. But the Yankees, either stubborn or blind, weren’t ready to give up on Chamberlain just yet.

Fixing him, however, won’t be easy, as Chamberlain has lost the feel for that killer slider that was so unhittable in 2007. Back then, hitters chased 35 percent of his pitches out of the strike zone — most of them sliders. That’s how wickedly the ball dropped, as Chamberlain was able to generate incredible arm-speed.

Unlike most sliders, which can be identified by a tiny red “dot” in the middle of the ball — that’s the illusion created by the spinning seams — the velocity of Chamberlain’s seam-spin was too fast to be detected. Hitters had no way of knowing they were attacking a slider until it was too late. They’d already started their swing by the time the ball was breaking away.

Today, Chamberlain induces swings on only 28.9 percent of sliders out of the zone. Most aren’t even close enough to tempt hitters; too many of them bounce uselessly in the dirt and only serve to leave Chamberlain in bad counts.

So much has changed for Chamberlain: his delivery and front leg are stiffer, his arm slot has dropped by a degree, and that slider malfunctions too often to be a coincidence. One major league scout said, “I don’t even recognize the slider (Chamberlain) is throwing anymore. It’s just not the same.”

Yet, the Yankees are keeping the faith. Loyal? Stubborn? Maybe they’re just holding off until the off-season to trade Chamberlain. In the meantime, the Bombers keep waiting (praying) for Joba to find a time machine back to 2007.