Yankees sign Wang to one-year deal
After missing most of 2008, righty expected to be ready for start of '09
NEW YORK -- Overlooked throughout this offseason of spending has been Chien-Ming Wang, a starting pitcher who has proven that when he is healthy, he can be every bit the ace that CC Sabathia or A.J. Burnett is.
The Yankees are quite aware of that fact, and so they wasted little time in signing Wang to a one-year, $5 million contract on Monday, thus avoiding arbitration.
Wang, 28, was 8-2 with a 4.07 ERA in 15 starts for the Yankees last season before spending the rest of the year on the disabled list with a sprain of the Lisfranc ligament in his right foot and a partial tear of a tendon in the same foot. He remained in a cast until the end of July, but spent the rest of the season rehabilitating and never made it as far as a Minor League rehab stint.
The Yankees stated publicly throughout the summer that they hoped to have Wang back on the mound by September, though he fell well short of that goal. His cast came off at the end of July, and he began throwing off a mound in mid-October.
The injury was a critical one. Wang had won 38 games over the past two seasons for the Yankees, and he finished second in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2006. His 19 wins ranked first in the league that season, and his 3.63 ERA ranked seventh.
Wang, a non-drafted free agent, asked for $4.6 million through arbitration last season, his first as an eligible player, but he lost the case and made $4 million. He likely would have been due for a substantial raise this year if not for the injury, which placed something of a damper on the team's expectations. Still, his 46 wins since 2006 rank third-most in the AL, and his .754 winning percentage ranked second in the Majors, behind Boston's Jon Lester.
Known for his heavy sinker, a pitch that has allowed him to succeed despite abnormally low strikeout rates, Wang will join new acquisitions Sabathia and Burnett in New York's rotation. Though the rest of the rotation remains unclear -- the Yankees are reportedly in talks to re-sign free agent Andy Pettitte, who would join Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes in the mix -- Wang, Sabathia and Burnett could form an impressive trio at the front end of the rotation.
And if Wang can rediscover his success of 2006 and '07, he would be a relative bargain at $5 million. Sabathia, by comparison, will make $9.5 million before he even throws a pitch for the Yankees, plus another $8 million throughout the first year of his seven-year, $161 million contract. Burnett is entering the first season of a five-year, $82.5 million deal.
Wang will be eligible for both arbitration and free agency following the 2010 season. Though general manager Brian Cashman said earlier this offseason that the team would proceed cautiously with Wang in Spring Training, the right-hander is a good bet to start the season in the rotation, or at least be close to returning to active duty.
The Yankees have two other arbitration-eligible players, outfielders Melky Cabrera and Xavier Nady. Cabrera will be eligible for the first time, Nady for the third and final time. If the Yankees cannot strike a deal with either player as they did with Wang, they will need to exchange salary figures with those players on Jan. 19, then meet for arbitration hearings in February.
A star in his native Taiwan, Wang, who has won more games than any other Taiwanese-born pitcher, was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2007 for the fact that the Taiwanese stock market rises and falls based on the quality of his starts.
His 54 career wins rank third among Asian-born pitchers, and helped him become the third-fastest Major League pitcher in the last 50 years to reach 50 career wins. Wang did it in his 85th career start; Dwight Gooden and Ron Guidry both did it in their 82nd career starts.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.