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


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).


26 thoughts on “Chien-Ming Wang looking for one last shot with the Yankees

  • Mike Baker

    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

  • Mike Baker

    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

  • Rob Abruzzese

    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.

  • Rob Abruzzese

    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.

  • Michael R.

    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?

  • Rob Abruzzese

    @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.

  • Rob Abruzzese

    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.

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