After missing two seasons with an unique shoulder injury, Washington Nationals SP Chien-Ming Wang returned to finish the 2011 season strong. The sinker ball pitcher joined John Lannan as the only starter to finish the season with the Nats with a ground ball rate above 50%. He threw just over 62 innings in 11 starts with a 4-3 record and a 4.04 ERA. He got stronger and went deeper into games as the season progressed. By his last start on September 24, there was no doubt that the Nationals were going to try to sign the Taiwanese pitcher to a new deal.
On Wednesday, SI.com’s Jon Heyman reported that the Nationals agreed to a 1-year deal in principle with Wang for the 2012 season. Not long after, The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore wrote that talks were “progressing” but the two parties were “not near a deal.” Kilgore later updated his post to say that the team and Wang were optimistic that an agreement would be reached “in the next few days.” Whatever the case may be, it looks like Chien-Ming Wang will return to the Nats next season.
This can only be good for the Nationals starting rotation to start next season. The RHP has a veteran presence in the clubhouse and could be a great mentor for John Lannan, who has a similar pitching style as a sinker baller. At this stage of his career, following injury and an extended time away from an MLB field, Wang will likely slide perfectly into the 3 or 4 spots in the rotation, depending on how Spring Training goes. Wang will match up extremely well against other bottom-of-the-rotation pitchers across the NL because of his experience and proven ability, which should help the Nats squeeze out a few extra wins compared to Jason Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny, who occupied the bottom-of-the-rotation last season.
It’s also important to remember that Wang’s past success came with the New York Yankees against AL opponents, where he had to face the Designated Hitter and didn’t have the luxury of a pitcher hitting 9th. These factors should help his success in the future.
As for Chien-Ming Wang’s contract status: my guess is that Jon Heyman was right; it will be for a 1-year deal. It will be for more guaranteed money than his $1 million in 2011, but it will still be incentive-laden to ensure that he has fully recovered from injury. If he has, it’s just one more factor in the Nationals favor that could push them to contend for the NL Wild Card, and possibly even the NL East Pennant.