After a week of speculation, Chien-Ming Wang finally appears to be headed to the Washington Nationals. The contract details are for $2 million guaranteed and $3 million in incentives.
Wang has had injury issues the past couple of years and a shoulder ailment is always a big red flag. However, when healthy, Wang is a top-of-the-rotation starter, featuring a power sinker that is impossible to lift when he gets it down, as well as a decent slider that acts as a strikeout pitch (though strikeouts are not a big part of his game). There is good reason to believe that Wang has already peaked as a starter, as once other AL teams started to figure out how to approach Wang (only swing at fastballs up), he was no longer quite as effective. However, a move to the weaker NL could do wonders to bring Wang back to his pre-2008 form.
If Wang does indeed have a bounce back, he could well end up being the best starter the Nationals have had in their short franchise history and would be a good complement to uber-prospect Stephen Strasburg.
All-in-all, this is a good gamble for the Nationals. Outside of Strasburg, their minor league system doesn’t have many impact players and they’ve had a difficult time attracting talent, as marquee free agents do not want to be part of a rebuilding project. Even if Wang does not pitch as well for them as he did for the Yankees in 2006 and 2007, considering the league switch and Washington’s spacious park, there’s still a good chance he’d at least be a league average starter and worth the cost. When you throw in that Wang still has one year of team control after this one, this is clearly a good move for Washington. If he stays healthy, they tender him a contract and pay him a reasonable $5 million in 2011; if he doesn’t, they simply let him go.
The Yankees would have certainly been happy to hold onto Wang if they did not have so many 40-man roster spots already tied up, as well as a full rotation. As we learned last year, Wang cannot be sent down to the minors, and the Yankees simply could not take the risk of guaranteeing him a rotation spot. Instead they chose to sacrifice more money and some talent to bring in the more reliable Javier Vazquez, which is understandable, as a team like the Yankees is almost always willing to pay more for performance probability.