Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Is a hidden Wang injury the real reason the Nats signed Jackson?


Is there something wrong with Chien-Ming Wang? Photo Washington Nationals official

I can’t say that I was surprised when the team signed Edwin Jackson a couple months ago; Mike Rizzo very openly coveted Jackson at the trade deadline in 2010, with wide spread rumors of a 1-for-1 trade straight up for Adam Dunn falling through at the last minute.  Then, with almost no leading rumors during the waning weeks of the Hot Stove league this past off-season, the Nats swooped in for a relatively affordable $11M deal for the hard-throwing Jackson.  Rizzo likes power arms and Jackson is that power arm, and save any other reason for signing him, he makes the team stronger (especially if they can fix his windup/stretch splits).

Absent any other proof, I (and many others) figured that Jackson’s signing meant the end of the road with the team for John Lannan, who seemed set to lose out on the race for the Nats 5 rotation spots for 2012.  The logic seemed pretty clear to me:  Strasburg and Zimmermann are your home-grown 1-2 punch, newly acquired Gonzalez cost the team a ransom in terms of farm system depth, and now you had Wang and Jackson on newly signed one-year FA contracts.  The implication of the last point is thus: newly signed Free Agents, by rule of the CBA, cannot be traded without their consent in the first year of a FA contract until at least June 15th.  That’s 5 starters for 5 spots.

This didn’t seem to make sense; the team has an underrated talent in Lannan, a sturdy lefty who hasn’t missed a start due to injury in his career here and, save a mid season swoon in 2010 has been a better-than-replacement starter for this team.  Why purposely replace him?  Wouldn’t most every team trade their 5th starter for someone like Lannan, who (even at $5M) is a pretty good, cheap option?

A 5th paragraph item buried in Pete Kerzel‘s latest report on Wang may have a hidden detail; Wang has reportedly been dealing with “shoulder stiffness” early on in spring training.  Stiffness and limitations in the shoulder of someone coming off of shoulder surgery is not exactly the news you want to hear, though every other beat reporter spoke today of Wang looking “sharp” and his sinker showing “exceptional movement.”

Maybe that’s incredible over-analysis of an off-handed, probably benign comment.  Maybe the real answer is that Rizzo is at a point with this team where he can afford to buy too many starters and have depth above replacement starters in case someone goes down with injury.  I’ve said in this space Lannan is odd-man out if everyone is healthy and I still believe that (he has a minor league option but his relationship with the team likely will be ruined if he gets assigned to Syracuse).  Or perhaps Rizzo has a trade up his sleeve for the long-elusive center fielder.  Or, just perhaps, there’s a 15-day DL trip for Wang in our future with Lannan slotting right in where he has been for several years; in our opening day rotation.

Written by Todd Boss

February 27th, 2012 at 7:35 pm

12 Responses to 'Is a hidden Wang injury the real reason the Nats signed Jackson?'

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  1. This will be by far the most interesting spring the Nats have ever had.

    I know this is not pitching related Todd, but that contract Zimmerman signed sure is club friendly. Almost all @ $14 million per except for the last year. His mother is such a compelling story, he really was willing to take less to be near her. God bless her and the whole family.

    Mark L

    27 Feb 12 at 8:01 pm

  2. Todd, it’s a fair question, I think, regardless of who else they signed, but considering that Wang, even if he’s 5×5, hasn’t thrown a full season in a long time, and Strasburg will be shut down early regardless, and anybody could get hurt at any time, one year of Jackson is easily explained as too good to pass up. Occam’s Razor, and a’ that.


    27 Feb 12 at 10:03 pm

  3. FWIW, Wang pitched live BP today to rave reviews.

    John C.

    27 Feb 12 at 11:05 pm

  4. I know, and included some of the links from yesterday’s rave reviews in the post … its a “long shot” theory for sure.

    Todd Boss

    28 Feb 12 at 9:22 am

  5. I get the “buying insurance” argument for Strasburg’s innings limit and Wang’s fragility … but aren’t those both issues that won’t manifest themselves until far later in the season? Like, nearly September? Zimmermann was on 160 innings limit, didn’t miss but one start that I can tell (he seems to have gotten skipped one start in late may) and made his last start August 28th. So, if the team bought an $11M extra pitcher (or, to put it another way, arbitrated a $5M extra pitcher) to hold over the team for the last month of the season, then that makes no sense to me. By September this team could be decimated by injury an be in last place and be giving starts to every AAA starter we have and it wouldn’t matter who the 6th pitcher was.

    Todd Boss

    28 Feb 12 at 9:26 am

  6. I’m kinda transitioning the way i do this blog right now … due to the time constraints that I’ve had lately. I think i’ve got to go towards shorter, more opinion pieces instead of the “off season news item” type lists of links that I was composing. 1500 words is a lot. So, I’ll put an opinion up on Zimmerman soon. I think i was kind of ambivalent about it; i wouldn’t have argued one way or the other if he hand’t been extended. In fact, I have a blip of opinion in a draft post that kinda questioned why this was such a big story, that the guy is signed through 2013 and why did we NEED to resign the guy?

    Todd Boss

    28 Feb 12 at 9:29 am

  7. Crouching Lannan, Hidden Wang Injury

    Feel Wood

    28 Feb 12 at 10:09 am

  8. Todd, I suspect your “long shot” theory on Wang isn’t all that long. I just can’t fathom that the Nats FO would be so risk-averse as to go all in on Wang’s durability by unloading a reliable workhorse like Lannan. Sure, Detwiler (or, less reliably, Gorzelanny) could take Wang’s spot if his shoulder breaks down, but not as capably as Lannan could. Your logic is inescapable about Wang needing to be the fifth starter because of FA requirements, but he has to be seen as a HUGE risk until he proves otherwise. Usually, trust but verify. In Wang’s case, trust but verify, then re-verify, then re-verify again. Because of the Nats’ investment in Wang over the past few years, I understand why Rizzo had to re-sign him after his solid outings last season. You don’t invest in a stock, then dump it as soon as it starts to pay dividends. But I’m not willing to part with Lannan until Wang proves he can stay healthy, and it would take a while for him to prove that to me.

    On Zimmerman, I understand your ambivalence (all we did was re-sign our own player), but I’m more inclined toward Mark L’s excitement about it. In terms of dollars and years, Zimm offered a team-friendly deal. If he rips the cover off the ball this season, he will have cost himself money next offseason, but he doesn’t seem to care about that. He’s a B+ fielder, an A- hitter, popular in the clubhouse, and a high-character guy off the field. I would have greatly regretted his departure, and the team saved money by getting his deal done sooner rather than later. I’ll always worry about his health, but his all-around upside is well worth that risk.

    Todd, I understand your reasons for transitioning your blog, which I find to be deeply insightful and exceptional in every way. My only regret is that I just found this site a few months ago. Thank you for your efforts. They are greatly appreciated. I will continue to follow your site closely, and I enjoy participating in these conversations.


    28 Feb 12 at 10:29 am

  9. I’ve got it! Six man rotation to start the season! Problem solved! Next :)


    28 Feb 12 at 10:48 am

  10. hahahaha.

    Todd Boss

    28 Feb 12 at 9:10 pm

  11. I’ve always had this theory that, instead of investing in starters, teams should just strive to find 12 Tyler Clippards who each pitch 2-3 innings a night and constantly keep teams off balance. You’d almost always face a different guy every at bat, never getting good looks at a starter (certainly never getting a third time through the rotation, where team’s batting averages almost always jump by 80-100 points over the first time through). Of course, I did find out that LaRussa did try it once but the starters revolted (no more “wins,” there fore no way to really show their worth in arbitration and free agency hearings).

    6 man rotations may eventually come to pass. So much for 20 game winners when they do. It wasn’t but 20 yrs ago or so that we had 4 man rotations and nobody complained. Now when a starter goes on 3 days rest they act as if someone’s risking their career.

    Todd Boss

    28 Feb 12 at 9:15 pm

  12. Working on a Zimmerman blog (had some time tonight while the wife watches American Idol … maybe i’ll have more time than I thought :-)

    Thanks for the thoughts though. I’ve got lots of content for the next couple weeks. I found some pretty incredible Ryan Braun stuff that i’ll post soon that, if its true, puts the whole case in a massively different light.

    Todd Boss

    28 Feb 12 at 9:16 pm

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