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Has Joba Chamberlain earned a multi-year offer from the Tigers?

When Dave Dombrowski signed the 28-year-old Chamberlain last winter, it looked like a roll of the dice at best. Now, Chamberlain is entrenched as the team's set-up man. Does this mean big years and big bucks in Detroit after the season?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

You only need to look at Joba Chamberlain's face to see a man who's relishing his exodus from New York City.

It's almost as if every shaggy whisker on Chamberlain's unshaved mug represents a sigh of relief he's taken since the Tigers signed him away from the Yankees last winter.

The Yankees, of course, are famous for their intolerance of facial hair on their players. The first thing a guy does when he signs with the Yankees is open a Swiss bank account. The second thing he does is go to the barber.

The clean shaven look may work for some, but Chamberlain, the Tigers' eighth inning guy, isn't one of them.

Chamberlain showed up to spring training in Lakeland last February looking like Tom Hanks in "Castaway," except for the portly belly of Joba's that Hanks didn't sport in the movie.

Chamberlain's face, freed from its Yankees restrictions, has been a big, bushy round thing ever since he pulled the Old English D over his burly chest.

But a pitcher cannot live on facial hair alone.

Chamberlain may have been free of whiskers when the Tigers signed him to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million in December, but he was much adorned with question marks. He was baseball's version of The Riddler.

He was a Tommy John surgery survivor. He was coming off a rotten 2013 in New York, surrendering eight home runs in just 42 innings. His future, once bright after he exploded onto the scene as a rookie in 2007, had seemingly taken a left turn.

The Yankees brought him on as a reliever, then made him a starter in 2009, with mixed results. Chamberlain started 31 games in 2009 but only managed to slog through 157 innings in the process, posting an elevated 4.75 ERA and a wince-inducing WHIP of 1.55.

It was back to the bullpen in 2010, but the results weren't much better: a 4.40 ERA and a WHIP of 1.30 in 71⅔ innings.

But whatever chance Chamberlain had at redemption was torpedoed by injury — twice.

First, it was Tommy John surgery in midsummer of 2011, then in March 2012, in spring training in Tampa, Chamberlain incurred a trampoline accident (you heard me) that caused an open dislocation of his ankle.

It wasn't until spring training of 2013 that Chamberlain was able to report to the Yankees feeling reasonably good, physically, for over two years.

But the good health didn't last long.

An oblique strain landed Chamberlain on the DL once again, on May 2, 2013.

It was a season filled with R&R and HR — as in home runs.

Chamberlain served up more taters than an Irish farmer. One dinger for every 5.3 innings pitched, to do the math. Questions about his arm, his stamina, his strength, all reared their heads. And since this is New York that we're talking about, those questions were all asked in the Bronx's notorious fish bowl.

So when Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski came calling with his one-year offer, Chamberlain jumped.

And he threw his razor away.

It wasn't clear what Chamberlain could offer the Tigers, and the fan base's reaction to the signing was underwhelming. On the surface, it looked like the Tigers were taking a $2.5 million dollar risk on a right-hander whose last good year was in 2008 — because that's exactly what the team was doing.

When Joba became a Tiger, the team had (they thought) Bruce Rondon to fill the eighth inning set up slot for newly-signed closer Joe Nathan. Joba was bullpen depth — a man without an inning. But he was out of New York at least.

But Rondon fell victim to Tommy John surgery as well, soon after spring training began, and with the loss of free agent Joaquin Benoit to San Diego in the off-season, the set-up role for Nathan was suddenly up for grabs.

During spring training, new manager Brad Ausmus started trying Joba in the eighth inning. And that's where Chamberlain started the 2014 season.

He hasn't relinquished the set-up man role since.

With few exceptions, Chamberlain and his bushy beard have been mowing down hitters in the eighth inning, giving manager Ausmus one less thing to worry about in a bullpen that's been filled with angst.

How about a 2.63 ERA (over a run lower than his career mark) and a 1.14 WHIP (much lower than his career 1.36) in 37⅔ innings? And only one home run allowed, although it was a biggie (David Ortiz in the ninth inning to lose the game when Ausmus used Chamberlain as a closer for the night).

The 2014 season for Chamberlain and the Tigers has turned out far better than anyone could have imagined — so far.

Chamberlain has allowed only one run in his last 10 appearances. He's been efficient, his stuff has been lively, and his confidence is at a level with the Tigers that it hadn't been with the Yankees in almost six years.

The one year, $2.5 million risk is returning at a high yield.

Chamberlain is 28 and it would seem that, so far, he has earned a shot at a multi-year deal with the Tigers — or some other team — this off-season.

But with Rondon still in the Tigers' plans for 2015, providing he is able to return from Tommy John surgery on schedule, there might be an interesting decision to be made.

Do the Tigers bring Chamberlain back in 2015, and if so, do they give him the eighth inning again? Do they stick with the younger, flame-throwing Rondon, who may turn out to be Joel Zumaya, redux? Or do they keep Chamberlain, even with Rondon returning in 2015, for added bullpen depth?

Those are questions for November, not July.

The Tigers are hoping none get asked in October, when it comes to Joba Chamberlain.

So far, so good.