As the Yankees gear up for a run that will hopefully take them deep into October, a former key cog of the pitching staff will be watching from the sidelines. One-time staff ace Chien-Ming Wang has been a non-factor much of the last two seasons. In a freak accident in Houston last summer, he injured his foot and never really recovered. This year, he suffered through a bad spring and underwent shoulder surgery that will sideline him until mid-2010.
For many pitchers, a stretch such as Wang’s would signal the end of a career. After winning 19 games in back-to-back seasons, Wang was historically bad this year. He went 1-6 in 12 games before surgery and allowed over two baserunners per inning. Now, his Yankee future is in doubt.
Wang is arbitration-eligible this year, and he turns 30 at the end of March. This confluence of factors along with his injury and ineffectiveness has led many to question whether the Yankees will offer Wang a contract. In a Yankee Notebook piece, Peter Abraham broached that very topic. The LoHud scribe writes:
In his first public comments since the surgery, Wang said he hopes to start playing catch again in January and believes he will pitch in the major leagues at some point in 2010. But he realizes that may not be with the Yankees.
Wang had a $5 million contract this season and is eligible for arbitration. There is virtually no chance the Yankees will offer him arbitration before the December deadline. That would leave Wang a free agent. “I would like to stay in New York,” he said. “But I don’t know what will happen.”
One possibility is that the Yankees could offer Wang a minor-league contract. Or another team could sign him to a major-league deal and hope that he returns to form. “That’s something we won’t even think about until November,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “Those are issues for another day.”
In a piece on MLB Trade Rumors, RAB’s own Mike Axisa pondered the Wang question as well. Mike too believes the Yankees will look to offer Wang a minor league contract, but the threat of another team offering him a Major League deal looms. After all, Wang will be on the 60-day disabled list until he’s ready to pitch next year. He won’t take up a 40-man spot and won’t require a major guaranteed investment.
While Cashman won’t tackle this question until November, I can’t see the Yankees letting Wang walk. The team has been loathe to commit to paying Wang, and as his recent injury history has shown, that decision has paid off. Now, though, the Yankees understand the need for pitching depth.
They also know what Wang can do if he’s healthy. While that’s a rather big “if” at this point in his career, it’s a chance the Yanks should take. I doubt Wang is expecting the same $5 million deal he received this year, and as long as the two sides can come to terms, there is no reason to for the Yankees to cut Chien-Ming Wang loose.