Chien-Ming Wang has made 10 starts for the Nationals this season. He’s 3-3 but you’d have to be watching blindfolded not to see the progress that he’s made. It’s a small sample size, and it came after more than two full years of rehab for a usually-devastating shoulder injury, but there’s no question Wang still has the ability to win at this level. With each start, he’s found that ability on a more consistent basis.
Now the only problem is that his guaranteed time in a Nationals’ uniform is coming to an end. Wang will be a free agent this offseason — a healthy pitcher searching for a team for the first time, really, since the Yankees plucked him as an amateur free agent in 2000.
The Nationals, on the other hand, will have a need for a veteran starting pitcher in a rotation expected to be filled with youth from Stephen Strasburg to Jordan Zimmermann on down. A former 19-game winner for the New York Yankees appearing to regain his past form might not be such a bad addition.
It certainly sounds like the two sides are thinking similarly as well and there’s no reading between the lines necessary:
Nationals manager Davey Johnson: “As far as I’m concerned, ever since he’s started throwing again, he’s a keeper. I’ve kind of had that thinking all along. Every time he goes out there, I’ve seen a little bit of improvement and that’s been from his first start through this (his 10th).
“The main thing is that he’s starting to trust that he’s healthy… I think the best is still yet to come with him.”
Chien-Ming Wang: “Hopefully I can come back here but the decision is made by the team. Personally I would like to come back. I really appreciate their patience the last two years. Hopefully in the future I can win more games for them.”
So what would it take to keep Wang in a Nationals uniform?
He’ll be 32 years old on Opening Day next season, which isn’t exactly elderly, and while he clearly has an injury history, there’s a good chance the Nationals won’t have to lock themselves into anything long-term in order to get him to come back.
Wang signed a $1 million incentive-laden deal this past offseason for 2011 and he’ll reach most of those incentives, as detailed in a report by Focus Taiwan News Channel. He’s earned $250,000 for remaining on the Nationals roster for 30 days, he’ll get another $500,000 when Sept. 27 rolls around and he reaches the 60-day mark on the active roster. And by starting Sunday, his 10th, he earned $100,000. He’ll get $100,000 more for what projects to be his final start of the season on Saturday and there was an unspecified roster bonus involved when he initially joined the team.
All told, Wang should make close to $2 million this season 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.
Whether a deal gets done will be something to monitor in the near future, for now, Wang can know that he and his employer seem to be on the same page and he’s certainly impressed his teammates this season.
“Each time he’s toed that rubber, he’s gotten a little better,” said Jonny Gomes. “It’s turning into a pretty good success story for him. If he just came back and pitched, that would be pretty awesome. To come back and pitch at this level and have success, that’s icing on the cake.
“(When he was with the Yankees), he was one of the ambassador’s, if you will, of that power sinker. There weren’t many guys doing it when he was doing it. Velocity is not where it was when he was in New York, but he’s become a smarter pitcher, using his other stuff. He’s doing a great job. Things are looking up for him. He’ll take this off-season, strengthen that shoulder and it will be good to get him back on our team. He’s going to be at the top end of a rotation, absolutely.”