Chien-Ming Wang looking for one last shot with the Yankees

Chien-Ming Wang

It happened in Houston when he was rounding third. He knew it. Third base coach Bobby Meacham knew it. There was a “pop”–an athlete’s nightmare sound–and a stutter-step, and before the 2008 Yankees could celebrate their widening sixth-inning lead over the Astros, their ace was coming up limping across home plate.

From the beginning of 2006 until his injury, Chien-Ming Wang had been as steady as anyone who toed the rubber. With a leaden sinker and an unflappable demeanor, Wang put together a 3.74 ERA to go along with his 46-15 record, which was good for best in the league over that time. And though he struggled in the postseason, the 2006 Cy Young runner-up gave the Yankees length (6.5 IP/start), efficiency (20% ground ball double play rate), and a near-sure win every five days (the 6.0 runs of support per game didn’t hurt, either) for almost three seasons.

And then there was Houston. Houston and a “pop” and a Lisfranc tear, and a rotation stalwart would never be the same.

For as good–as dependable and efficient and promising–as his career was in its early stages, Wang would barely sniff at success following the injury. His 2009 campaign was marred by mechanical problems (likely a result of over-compensating for the sprain) and eventual shoulder surgery. At the end of the year, the pitcher many once thought might garner an eight-figure deal was non-tendered a contract by the Yankees–nearly unthinkable a few seasons before.  And though the Nationals took a few flyers on him, an extended rehab of his right shoulder, further injuries, and general ineffectiveness made him nearly unrecognizable from his glory days. In two greatly abbreviated seasons with the Nats, Wang went 6-6 with a 4.94 ERA and 1.532 WHIP–a far cry from his back-to-back 19-win years with the Yankees. Suddenly, Houston seemed like several lifetimes ago.

Luckily for Wang, his former team has an excellent memory.

On March 25, the Yankees signed Wang, 32, to a minor league contract, with a major league option worth up to $3 million. The righty had reached out to teams in early February, going so far as to throw a bullpen at the home of Yankees’ spring training instructor (and former pitching expert) Billy Connors. But it was his performance at the World Baseball Classic that solidified the team’s interest. In two starts for Chinese Taipei, Wang pitched 12 shutout innings, allowing 10 hits and walking one. His reported fastball speed of 90-93mph (though neither confirmed, and in outings since, duplicated) and retooled arsenal added to his hypothetical value.

Reclamation projects are nothing new in baseball, though teams are not in the business of being charities. In Wang, the Yankees see a low-risk, high-reward pitcher, similar to the chances they gave Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in 2011, but with an undeniable sentimentality. He’s their guy–their former ace gone astray–and if he makes good for the team that’s showing faith in him one more time, the payout figures to extend beyond the stat sheet.

Wang, for his part, is pleased with the signing: “It was an easy decision for me (to sign back with the Yankees) because I never wanted to leave,” Wang told LoHud’s Chad Jennings back in March. “… It’s like back in the day. This was my first team, this is where I started. I feel great.”

Heartwarming potential aside, the Yankees are hoping Wang continues to feel great. In his first Triple-A start on Saturday, the righty allowed six hits over a scoreless 5.1 innings. Showing some newfound versatility since his last stint in the Yankees’ system, Wang mixed in some curveballs and changeups with his usual sinker and slider, including a particularly nasty changeup to record a strikeout, according to Jeff Norton at YESnetwork.com.

The outing was one small step forward–Wang will need to prove that he can sustain that level of efficacy over several outings before the Yankees consider moving him up. Still, early returns are intriguing, and if nothing else, the threat of losing a roster spot could motivate a pitcher like Ivan Nova (1-1, 6.14), who has yet to look completely comfortable on the mound this season.

The odds that Wang will return to his early form are unlikely. One afternoon in Houston took care of that. Shoulder surgery took care of that. General regression will take care of the rest. But, for now, the possibility that he could contribute in a meaningful way is enough to keep watching. Chien-Ming Wang is back home.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II).

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26 Responses to Chien-Ming Wang looking for one last shot with the Yankees

  1. Mike Baker says:

    Thompson wasnt the 3rd base coach then it was booby meacham…Thompson became the the 3rd base coach after 08,he was the bench coach then

  2. Mike Baker says:

    also i hope they bring up Wang bc ive always been a big Wang guy except in 09 when he couldnt get anyone out haha

  3. I think three people read that and didn't catch it. I suppose that even though I'm not a big Rob Thompson fan, he has been around for what feels like forever now. I still hold out hope that Willie Randolph comes back to coach third one day.

  4. Tanned Tom says:

    I'd feel a lot more comfortable with a diminished Wang than a full strength Hughes.

    • Mark Panuthos says:

      I think we need to be care with the descriptors we put in front of Chein Ming's last name.

    • Brian says:

      I'm not clear why there's so little love to Hughes in Yankeeland… the guy has a .578 winning percentage, and an 18 and 16 win season under his belt. Yes, he's prone to giving up the long-ball, and no, he'll never be the Ace we hoped he'd be when he came up from the minors – but he's a solidly serviceable #3 or a very good #4 in any pitching staff in baseball. Accept him for who and what he is, and let's stop the hating… Nova on the other hand now has 1.5 straight seasons of sub-par ball, and even his 'break-out' season was filled with troubling stats… and yet I don't see the kind of hate toward Nova that we all seem to have toward Hughes. I'd love an explanation.

      • Tanned Tom says:

        First of all, wins and winning percentages are not much of an indicator of value, they are far more representative of overall team performance. His career ERA is 4.42 which seems to me more of a 5th starter than 3rd or 4th. In fact he has had exactly one season with an ERA below 4.00 and that was 2009, when he worked primarily out of the pen. So he kinda sucks. Second there are the HRs that you mentioned. Third there have been dedication/conditioning issues. .

        • Brian says:

          I agree – winning percentage is a poor measure of a pitchers success as they do rely largely on team dynamics. However, while saying this it's not entirely worthless. Second – yes, he has a career 4.42, but looking at his two complete (injury free) seasons the picture is somewhat better with a 4.19 and a 4.23 ERA and (more to your statistical relevance point) WHIPs of 1.248 and 1.265. Considering that in 2012 League Average (Or Replacement Player average) WHIP was 1.38, he's clearly somewhat better than 'League Average'…. which is exactly what you want out of a 3rd or 4th starter. Better than average, not too expensive, and goes 6 innings. I'd be happy to resign him at a reasonable deal next year… he does the job. Nothing more nor less. Like i said above – he's a disappointment. There was a time we were talking about trading him and Joba for Roy Halladay or Felix Hernandez. We'd all do that deal in a nanosecond today… but he doesn't 'suck'… he's just slightly above average. A disappointment, but not a bust.

          • Tanned Tom says:

            So the question is, if his market rate next year is a 5 year deal for $70 mil do you re-sign him? I'm not sure the club can afford that for a 4th starter. Frankly I'd much rather let Hughes leave and get the draft pick (assuming that's doable) and see Sabathia, Pettitte or Kuroda, Pineda, Phelps, Nova/Warren/Nuno. It's possible Hughes will be better than Phelps or the trio, but at a much greater cost.

          • Brian says:

            5 for $70 … I'd go with 5 for $55-$60, or 4 for $50… You're just not getting a 4th starter with big-league (let along NYC) experience for under $10m/year – and unless Pineda/Banuelos/Betances (Yah i know that ship has likely sailed) or maybe Campos step up in the next 12 months – who do we have to slot in? I have to believe this is Andy's last year, and Kuroda's last year (most likely) so that's 2 slots we need to fill in 2014 already. Can we afford to lose Hughes (even if we have to overpay slightly and know he's a 3 at best?

      • Tanned Tom says:

        Fourth is the way the organization has been so loyal to him while they've jerked around Chamberlain, who based on the numbers has been a clearly superior pitcher. How much superior? Chamberlain's only year with an ERA above Hughes' career ERA was 2009, his first as a starter.
        I certainly hope that Hughes turns this around, but at some point a player simply is what he is. With any luck he has a great/lucky year, we make him the qualifying offer, which he declines, and we collect a draft pick when signs a 4 year deal elsewhere.

        • Brian says:

          I have never liked how the organization treated Joba… and I've always felt he should have gotten a chance to be a starter. But I don't see this as a knock on Hughes. Joba has also been his own worst enemy, between the DUI, the trampoline accident etc etc etc…

        • Brian says:

          Any change of mind after last night's gritty performance? I recognize one start doesn't justify a career of mediocrity – but Hughes DOES seem to rise to the occasion with some regularity. That is my issue/hope regarding him – he's NOT a 3-4 run per game pitcher… he either gives up 7 in 3 innings or he gives you 7 innings and 2 runs. It's so feast or famine with him – which tells me that it's about focus not stuff…

  5. I doubt Wang would be better than Hughes at this point; he might not even be better than Nova at this point. If he pitches well in Triple-A and Nova continues to struggle then we may find out who is better.

    • mikefoxtrot says:

      if he still can throw that heavy sinker at 90+ it would be good to see him do so in the Stadium

  6. Michael R. says:

    It probably isn't going to work but I hope he ends up getting a shot (and I think he will). BTW, the red hat really looks stupid doesn't it?

  7. Mike Sommer says:

    Meanwhile, Vidal Nuno is off to a good start for AAA.

  8. @Brian – I don't think anybody hates Hughes, but there has been a fair amount of disappointment and I think that's the attitude that comes across when most people discuss him. He was so dominant in the minors that most expected him to be a No. 1 type and he's frustrating because he's an extreme fly-ball pitcher in a hitters park. He's also a bit deceiving whereas he's had high win totals, but that says more about his offense than him, and the relatively low WHIP which is counterbalanced by so many home runs.

    Then you can compare him to Ivan Nova, who wasn't a big prospect and didn't come with the expectations, and it's natural that people put less pressure on him. Also take into account that Hughes is further along in his development than Nova and that also affects the expectations. I think if you asked most fans who they would rather have on the mount and most would want Hughes, but when it comes to discussing them the frustration surrounding Hughes is greater.

    Tom also made a good point that a lot of us see Joba, who has had better stuff and more success in the majors, but was given such a shorter chance for success. I think you can throw that in there to add to the frustration.

    If Nova doesn't turn things around soon, I think we'll see a lot more frustration with him very soon, btw.

    • Brian says:

      Thanks for the insightful and thoughtful response Rob. I agree with everything you've said – and hey, count me in as someone who feels let down by Hughes… The year they called him up and he was 7/9 innings (I think?) through a No-No vs. Houston … I had big big dreams as i'm sure many of us did. He hasn't lived up to them sadly. What gets me about Hughes though is his 'feast or famine' nature… that could be due to him being a fly-ball pitcher too… he's subject to the big inning – but when he doesn't give up that big inning he can hold opponents to 1-2 runs in a game… feels like it's either 7 runs in 3 innings or 2 in 7 … which is just so damn frustrating and tantalizing. I for one do hope we re-sign him at a reasonable number ($10-$12/year max) as we are going to be short good arms next year. That said – I think Hughes would do really well going to a more pitcher friendly park like Comerica or Safeco… where those 325 foot homers that clear our short porch would die in the outfield.

      This also goes to show you – NEVER fall in love with prospects… There was a time (as i mention above, and likely don't need to remind you) when we could have had King Felix for Joba + Hughes …. ah to get do-overs in life.

      • Elizabeth Finn says:

        That near-no-no when he left with the hammy injury was vs. Texas. ;) But I agree with you on Hughes. Personally, I like him a lot, so I root for his personal success as well as the team's when he pitches. I'd like to see him stick around.

        • Brian says:

          That's correct Elizabeth. I remember it like yesterday…heartbreaking watching him being half-carried off the mound that day… and he's never pitched that well again.

          • Elizabeth Finn says:

            I remember two excellent starts similar to that. One on Memorial Day in Texas in 09 and the other one vs DET last year. I think the latter was a complete game.

  9. Just for the record, I don't think there was ever actually a time when the Yankees seriously discussed trades with the Mariners for King Felix. So it's not like the Yankees passed on Joba+Hughes for Hernandez. But I do get your point.

    • Brian says:

      I just remember alot of buzz around Felix and Halladay 3 or so years ago… with Joba and Hughes as the trade bait. Maybe it's my memory playing tricks on me. Sorry if i put out mis-information.