We’ve all been watching Chien-Ming Wang labor through his first few starts in nearly two seasons, having worked his way back through shoulder surgery. August and September are clearly a “regular season tryout” for Wang, with the team having carried him for the last two seasons to the tune of $3m guaranteed. Recently, details of his incentives were posted by foreign journalists that seem to indicate that Wang is likely to earn at least $1M more in roster bonuses, pushing the Nats outlay to $4M for the estimated 12 starts we’ll get out of him this year. This isn’t exactly the worst $/start FA contract ever signed, and the amount of money spent isn’t exorbitant, but it is a lot of money for very few impactful starts.
Now, a quick caveat before getting into the meat of this post: I’m not convinced he’s really back, or that he’s going to be worth retaining just quite yet. He’s not pitching that badly; through his first seven starts he has a 4.19 era, a 1.397 whip. His advanced stats were a bit more troubling: he is sporting a 5.32 fip, a 4.99 xfip and a 5.11 SIERA as of the date of this writing, meaning his ERA is likely a mirage and likely will rise. Even more concerning; he’s not getting any strikeouts; he was never a big K/9 guy (4.1/9 on his career), but he had THREE strikeouts in his first 21 innings back and 9 in 38 IP to this date: This the NL; you usually get 3-4 strikeouts per game by falling out of bed by virtue of the opposing pitcher and generally weaker lineups. So perhaps this whole post is for naught.
Now, all that being said. Lets say Wang throws 1.50 era baseball the rest of the season and the team wants him back. Here’s the big problem: the Nats don’t have a club option on him!! There’s nothing to prevent Wang from going back to the Yankees (his “home” club) after this season, having had our team pay for his rehab for the past two years and $3M dollars. Yeah he’d probably accept a 2 or $2.5M offer … but the Yankees may double that because they don’t really care about payroll and need starting pitching and may be willing to roll the dice.
I know sportswriters and bloggers have been saying things like, “well maybe he’ll recognize the situation and give the Nats a fair deal.” Maybe. But certainly it isn’t in his best interest to do something like this. Yeah the team just gave him $3M for a few 2011 starts … but baseball is a business and if a team comes in with a larger offer to take a flier on him, he’s not going to just give money away. Especially on a team that has a slew of rising SP prospects and who just got done telling another veteran with a mid 4 ERA (Livan Hernandez) to shut it down for the rest of the season.
I think this was a team mistake: they had to know this situation would happen and the whole point of a club option is to protect the club’s interest. A club option could have been done with $0 buy out, especially for a guy who had just gotten $2M in 2010 to basically have a year-long paid rehab assignment.