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Nationals not "close" to a deal with Chien-Ming Wang; haven't talked with Hernandez, Rodriguez

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Since he began to truly regain his form and prove himself as a viable member of the starting rotation, the Nationals have wanted to keep Chien-Ming Wang around for next year. They’ve been in discussions for a contract for the Taiwanese right-hander since September but Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Wednesday that while those talks are ongoing, a deal is not “imminent.”

“We are in communication and we’re trying to negotiate a contract,” Rizzo said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “I wouldn’t describe it as imminent or close but we’re still communicating and still have a mutual interest for Chien-Ming to sign with the Nationals. That’s the best way I can put it at this time.”

The primary hold up between the sides would have to be a dollar figure as the Nationals have made it clear they’re very interested in keeping the 31-year-old sinkerballer around and Wang, who is grateful to Washington for taking a chance on an injured pitcher not once but twice (for substantial sums of money), has said he wants to remain in Washington. 

Wang signed a $1 million incentive-laden deal last offseason and he reached most of those incentives, as detailed in a report by Focus Taiwan News Channel. He earned $250,000 for remaining on the Nationals roster for 30 days. He got another $500,000 when Sept. 27 passed and he reached the 60-day mark on the active roster. For his 10th start he earned an additional $100,000. He got $100,000 more for his 11th start as well and there was an unspecified roster bonus involved when he initially joined the team.

All told, Wang made close to $2 million this season and since they signed him, prior to the 2010 season, Wang has made nearly $4, but if the expectation is that he’s going to be both effective and healthy for all of 2012, the Nationals could be looking at a price tag more in the $3-$5 million range for the former 19-game winner.

Wang is expected to pitch for the Taiwanese team in the MLB All-Star series there next week, pitching against several of his teammates, and unless a contract is worked out with the Nationals between now and when Wang officially becomes a free agent (five days after the World Series ends), the Nationals will not technically have a say over how Wang is handled and used by the manager and coaches during the series.

However, when Nationals manager Davey Johnson met with Wang at the end of the season, he discussed the series with him and made clear to him that the Nationals would prefer he not throw more than three innings in a game. Still, without any contract in place they cannot enforce those desires.

“Once he becomes a free agent we lose the right to monitor him or make any suggestions on workload and pitch limits and that type of thing,” Rizzo said Wednesday. “He’s got an intelligent agent (Alan Nero) who’s been doing this for a long, long time and we’ve discussed what we believe are the parameters of how he should pitch in that tournament. I think that they’re going to be very careful and realistic about it.”

– Along those same lines, the Nationals have not had significant talks with either right-hander Livan Hernandez and catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

Both veterans indicated they’d like to come back to the Nationals — Hernandez emphatically so — but Rizzo said both asked for some time away before they discussed anything for next year.

“We have not spoken since early in the offseason,” Rizzo said. “They wanted to step away from it for a period of time. I think when we figure out what we’re doing as far as an organization — when we get a manager, when our coaching staff is on board — we’ll discuss it with them and see which direction we want to go with not only those two but with the rest of the ballclub. 

Both are unique cases.

While Rodriguez missed two months of the season recovering from an oblique strain, he still possesses the skills to be a viable major leaguer — and a heck of a backup option for a team — but is looking for an opportunity to play more than the Nationals may allow. With Wilson Ramos emerging this season as the No. 1 catcher the Nationals hoped that he would, Rodriguez knows that Ramos is going to be expected to catch five or six days a week next season, living minimal playing time for the No. 2 catcher.

Rodriguez was extremely valuable this season in working with Ramos and Jesus Flores and really transitioning to the backup role without issue but if there are offers for him where he’ll get more playing time it would be unlikely he winds up back with the Nationals for next year.

Hernandez has expressed an extreme desire to return to the Nationals, even offering to convert from a starter — which he’s been for the entirety of his lengthy major league career — to a long reliever. There are several questions for the Nationals, though. Hernandez is currently the target of a federal money laundering investigation linked to a drug kingpin in Puerto Rico, who was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday and there are no guarantees that he will be extremely effective as a long reliever.

Hernandez has significant value as a veteran presence on the pitching staff and several of the Nationals young pitchers look to him for advice and to learn from his experiences. The Nationals will have to decide if there is room on their roster for Hernandez and if they feel he’d be successful enough as a long reliever to warrant keeping him on it. 

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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