Click here to support this site
Since word got out last week that the Nationals were the front-runners to sign Chien-Ming Wang, the reaction has been decidedly mixed. Seems some fans have been jumping for joy, ecstatic that Washington could get its hands on a guy who posted back-to-back 19-win seasons in 2006-07 before battling injuries the last two years. And it seems others are decidedly against the move, believing Wang's best days are behind him and that he's far from the reliable starter the Nats so desperately need.
Fair points, at both ends of the spectrum.
Here, though, is an explanation why the Nationals believe Wang is worth the investment...
First and foremost, he's still young. Wang turns 30 on March 31, so he conceivably has plenty of gas left in the tank. Unlike, say, 42-year-old John Smoltz, who has been considering retirement for several seasons and faces the possibility of throwing his final pitch every time he takes the mound.
Yes, Wang has been beset by injuries to his foot and shoulder the last two years. But plenty of guys have returned from far worse and pitched effectively for years. Washington scouts and front-office execs have seen him throw recently and are reasonably confident his arm is on the track back to 100 percent healthy, the hope being he can return to the mound in May or June.
What if Wang doesn't come back healthy, or if he's ineffective once he starts pitching again? The cost to the Nats is fairly minimal. Wang is guaranteed $2 million -- $6 million less than Austin Kearns made in 2009 -- and only makes more than that if he reaches various incentives along the way. The Nats have eaten worse contracts over the years (see Lo Duca, Paul; and Lopez, Felipe).
And remember, even though this contract is for only one year, Wang is under the Nats' control for at least two years. His major-league service time currently stands at 4 years, 159 days. You need six years to become a free agent, and next winter, he'll fall 21 days short of that distinction. So if the Nats want to retain Wang in 2011, they can. The two sides will either have to settle on terms themselves or else go to arbitration, but he'll be in Washington if Washington wants him. And if the club doesn't think he's worth re-signing, he can be non-tendered and cut loose, just as the Yankees did in December.
The prospect of a healthy Wang in 2011 is really the biggest selling point of this move. It's no secret the Nationals understand they're not contending for anything in 2010, other than perhaps escaping the basement in the NL East. But they're cautiously proceeding as though 2011 could be a breakthrough season for the franchise, primarily because of the pitching staff they're assembling.
If everything goes according to plan -- and obviously, you can't assume this -- the Nats' Opening Day 2011 rotation could feature Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Jason Marquis and Chien-Ming Wang. That's the kind of rotation that can make a legitimate postseason run. And it doesn't even take into account the possible development of other young arms like Ross Detwiler, Craig Stammen, Scott Olsen, Garrett Mock, J.D. Martin, Collin Balester, Matt Chico and Brad Meyers.
There's one more component to the Wang signing, one you may not have thought of but I assure you the Nationals have. This franchise has boasted only two Asian players in its five years in the District: Tomo Ohka of Japan and Sun-Woo Kim of South Korea. Neither guy made much impact and neither was considered a household name in his home country.
But Wang is a hero back in Taiwan, and he brings with him a sizable traveling media corps and thousands of fans. For a franchise that is trying to attract a larger following, both at home and abroad, this move is a major development. Taiwanese baseball fans who never had reason to care about Washington suddenly have a new favorite team. And the addition of one prominent Asian player makes this franchise more legitimate and credible throughout the Far East, opening the door for future signings of big-name players who previously might not have considered coming to the Nats.
Yes, the Wang signing makes for good PR. And while his actual on-field contributions are more important to the Nationals in the short-term, his off-field contributions will be significant and could pay dividends for years to come.