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Yankee Panky: The Wang Stuff

Wednesday afternoon, Yankees GM Brian Cashman held a press conference in which he discussed Chien-Ming Wang’s return to the starting rotation.

“He’s a starter and he’s got a huge history of nothing but success,” he said. “It’s time to find time to slot him in.”

Now is, and was, that time. Wang made Cashman and manager Joe Girardi look smart for two innings, until he reverted to the pitcher whose ERA resembled the national debt ticker in midtown Manhattan. Was that what the Yankees were waiting for?

Speaking of waiting, the way the Yankees have treated Wang, admittedly rushing him back before accurately gauging his progress, one wonders if he was accelerated and placed in the starting rotation in order to be showcased to potential trade suitors. Cashman would never say that and no local scribes have gotten that provocative yet, but the possibility cannot be ruled out.

Newsday’s former Yankee beat man Jim Baumbach went there, sort of, giving some insight into the tenuous relationship the organization has had with Wang, going back five years.

The Yankees gladly would have traded Chien-Ming Wang in a package for Randy Johnson during the 2004 season if only the Diamondbacks had any interest in him. After the trade deadline passed with no moves, the Yankees even let Wang pitch in the Olympics, something they never would have done if they thought Wang was a legitimate prospect.

Is he right? Think about it. The Yankees could have signed Wang to a long-term deal last year, but opted not to. They instead signed Robinson Cano to a long-term deal and took Wang to salary arbitration, where the pitcher was awarded a $4 million contract. This year, the Yankees and Wang went to arbitration again, with the righty getting a $1 million raise.

Baumbach wasn’t done, though. In a column recapping Thursday’s victory, in which the Yankees got Wang off the hook, Baumbach wrote:

Seemingly every time the Yankees talk about Chien-Ming Wang, they reference how he won 46 games for them in the previous 2 1/2 seasons, as if that should count toward something here in 2009.

But we’re more than a third of the way through this season, and pretty soon the Yankees will have to come to grips with the fact that the pitcher who used to be their ace hasn’t been heard from since he hurt his right foot last June in Houston. And there’s no guarantees that pitcher is going to make it back this season.

It should be noted that the pitcher who won 46 games from 2006-08 only won one playoff game in that time frame. In 2007, his second straight 19-win season, he lost both of his ALDS starts, pitching just 5 2/3 innings over those two appearances and logging a 19.06 ERA. Why is this relevant? The Yankees told Wang what they thought of his ace status by shelling out $242 million in long-term contracts to pitchers they believed had a better upside. That the 2009 version of Wang looks more like the pitcher who faced Cleveland in ’07 as opposed to the one who helped lead that team to a wild-card berth hasn’t helped his case.

As far as Phil Hughes is concerned, he is in the bullpen now, and as Baumbach and others have written, the Yankees view his future in the rotation. The same is true with Wang. He’s viewed as a starter. But what happens if and when Brian Bruney or Damaso Marte return to their respective relief spots? Whose future is in the Yankees’ rotation then? Will the Yankees wait that long to make their move?

We’ll know the answers soon enough.


1 Bum Rush   ~  Jun 5, 2009 10:41 am

Trading Wang is a fine idea. With Jeter at shortstop, and A-Rod failing before our eyes, they're never going to have a lights out groundball machine. More importantly, pitchers like Wang just don't age well. There's too much working against him.

Wang could bring back a decent return, especially because he's cost-controlled for the next year and a half. Matt Holliday seems certainly doable, especially since Wang is a fine return for what Beane sent to Colorado. If anything it may be too much.

2 Shaun P.   ~  Jun 5, 2009 10:55 am

In the abstract, trading Wang is a fine idea for all the reasons mentioned: possibly poor IF defense by the Yanks, past injury woes, future expectations, etc.

But we aren't in the abstract, we're in the present, and right now, trading Wang is stupid. His value is still very low right now - not as low as it was a month ago, but still low. You don't sell low, you sell high.

Beyond that, the Yanks are likely to need more than 5 starters over the course of the year. Aceves can cover for one injury, but what happens if two guys (coughPettitteandBurnettcough) are hurt? Is Kontos ready for the bigs? My guess is no, which means we either see "Kei Igawa - the sequel" or "Brett Tomko - MLB starting pitcher". Ugh. Factor in Hughes and Joba's innings caps, and I say trading Wang right now would be very foolish.

The time to explore trading Wang is this offseason if he pitches well the rest of the season.

3 seamus   ~  Jun 5, 2009 10:55 am

[1] You'd be selling low right now. Trading Wang doesn't make sense. Especially given that he is not even close to where aging should be a primary concern.

The reason Wang was rushed back into the rotation was because a starting pitcher has to start games or he loses arm strength and stamina. As it was, Wang had seen a lot of time go by since his last start.

Could Cashman be intending to showcase him? Maybe but realistically he was more likely to struggle (after starting with strength issues and then spending two weeks in the pen) trying to go 5-6 innings as a starter than 2-3 innings as a reliever. That doesn't sound much like showcasing. It sounds more like working your starter back into the rotation where he can build arm/hip strength and stamina.

4 Diane Firstman   ~  Jun 5, 2009 11:05 am


Sigh ... now I've New Kids on the Block stuck in my head


(I hate my stream-of-consciousness, jukebox brain sometimes) :-P

5 jonnystrongleg   ~  Jun 5, 2009 11:07 am

Legitimate rotational depth requires sacrifices. It requires sacrifice to ego, to development, and to loyalty. It requires a choice between what's best in the long term for the franchise and what's best in the short term.

The Yanks have legitimate depth this year, and maybe because that's new to the organization and the fan base, we seem completely shocked that the depth calls for sacrifice.

The Red Sox face a similar situation - they've got a young guy (Buchholz vs Hughes) an injured guy (Dice-K vs Wang) and 1 year contract innings guy (Penny vs Pettitte). They've managed the rotation completely differently than the Yanks and it will be interesting to see if one approach proves more beneficial than the other. One thing is certain, when the time comes, it will be easier for the Red Sox to trade/demote w/ Penny than it will for the Yanks to move Pettitte.

6 Bum Rush   ~  Jun 5, 2009 11:20 am

I don't think they'd be selling low. Teams know what kind of pitcher he is, and once he's proven he's healthy - and in a month he will have - he'll have the same value he had before the season: A 2 or 3 with 1.5 cost controlled years.

Now what to trade for? A corner OF bat would be nice. Matt LaPorta?

7 Bum Rush   ~  Jun 5, 2009 11:21 am

@ 3

What was the reason he was rushed back from the minors?

That was a royal screw up by the GM if there ever was one. Just insane, really. A complete panic move without any thought beyond the next day. There's no excuse for it.

8 Bum Rush   ~  Jun 5, 2009 11:24 am

Finally, look at this homerun tracker and count how many have been "just out" especially in right-center and left-center where the wall goes straight and it used to be curved.

You can stop once you pass 30.

9 Bum Rush   ~  Jun 5, 2009 11:26 am

Sorry, wrong thread.

10 Bum Rush   ~  Jun 5, 2009 11:34 am

@ 2

They have more back of the rotation arms coming for next year. Chris Garcia needs to show he can stay healthy. But McAllister could be ready, and throwing 170 innings, this year.

A 6th or 7th starter is a luxury when the Yankees are running out an all under.850 OPS outfield. Any advantage Jorge and Jeter still give is completely tossed away with Melky and Garder and Damon and Swisher too by the end of the year.

Adam Dunn would have been a great signing...except they already had Matsui and Nady. Ugh. But Carl Crawford? Ugh.

11 Diane Firstman   ~  Jun 5, 2009 11:42 am

The METS should have absolutely signed Dunn.

12 Rich   ~  Jun 5, 2009 11:52 am

Trading Wang at some point might make sense...but that point isn't now. His value will almost certainly never be lower.

Plus, Pettitte may well have ongoing back issues.

Consequently, there is a < 0 chance that Wang will be traded any time soon.

The Yankees are starting now for one reason: they royally messed up when they cut short his rehab assignment, so in order to get him sufficient innings, they believe they have to start him now even though doing so reduces their chances of winning.

I like Cashman, but everything he says about Wang is purely CYA material.

13 Rich   ~  Jun 5, 2009 11:54 am

[11] The Wilpons lost hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the Madoff scam. I don't think they had the money at the time.

14 zack   ~  Jun 5, 2009 12:02 pm

Any way you cut it, Cashman's handling of the roster this season has been nothing short of atrocious. With Wang being the most galling case. They have really really screwed that up.

But trading him isn't the solution. As already mentioned, they'll need him. Plus, his velocity is back, so clearly there is some mechanical and mental issues at work, which are fixable. For two innings, he had his sinker sinking. Now, we can bump that up to four next start hopefully etc.

There is nothing wrong with a guy who wins games, gives you a better than league average era, eats innings, and doesn't pitch great in the playoffs when he is your #3 pitcher, as Wang was always meant to be. Trading that away for anything less than a major positional prospect would be unwise.

15 zack   ~  Jun 5, 2009 12:03 pm

[10] Don't hold your breath. As Hughes and many of the young BP arms have shown, its not so simply to pencil a young kid in as the #5 starter. Many simply don't make it. Many take time to adjust. McAllister has had the benefit of pitching in a pitcher's league in one of the best pitcher's parks in baseball. he's still been great on the road, but counting on him for anything before 2011 is a bit too optimistic.

16 ChrisS   ~  Jun 5, 2009 12:16 pm

I'd like to deal Wang for a young corner OFer and LaPorta isn't on the table for less than Joba+.

McLouth would have been nice, and apparently the Braves didn't give up all that much.

Melky's been declining since early May, yesterday included, and Gardner could revert any day. Nady might not be back and if he is it'll be as a DH, and Matsui can't play the field.

17 seamus   ~  Jun 5, 2009 12:34 pm

[7] being activated prematurely was most definitely an issue.

18 cult of basebaal   ~  Jun 5, 2009 12:36 pm

[16] McLouth also wasn't on the market, the Braves approached the Pirates out of the blue and "blew them away" with the offer (which is just a sad statement from the Pirates' organization, given the talent they got back).

In any case, I very much doubt that the Pirates would have been interested in Wang, even if healthy.

19 Diane Firstman   ~  Jun 5, 2009 12:40 pm


Why not .... the Pirates seem to love the low-K rate pitchers (Duke, Karstens, Ohlendorff, Maholm)

20 cult of basebaal   ~  Jun 5, 2009 12:54 pm

[19] $$$ mostly, though also where Wang is relative to free agency.

21 williamnyy23   ~  Jun 5, 2009 1:00 pm

[16] McLouth is 27 years old with a career OPS+ of 110 (recent peak of 126) in the NL Central. According to fangraphs, " he has consistently ranked as a below average defensive center fielder, compiling a -10.6 UZR/150 over his career."

In other words, he is a corner outfielder who is an above average hitter, which makes him a nice player, but hardly for whom the Yankees should be spending prospects.

[18] Locke and Hernandez are not bad prospects. In fact, Keith Law had them both toward the end of his top-100 in all of baseball.

22 rbj   ~  Jun 5, 2009 1:28 pm

Wang wasn't pitching in the minors. IIRC there was some warp in the rules that basically wouldn't allow him to go to the minors. So basically he was just doing extended spring training and I'm not sure that's where he needed to be; sure build up strength but he looked good there and his bullpen stint and the first two innings yesterday do tell me his sinker is back, he just needs to get the stamina back up. I think Pettitte is next to go on the DL, and by the time he comes back AJ will go down, and when he's back we're probably at Joba's &/or Phil's innings limit. Having 6 healthy starters at the same time is a problem every team would love to have.

I would not trade CMW, he has a proven track record and I see signs he's getting back there.

I don't know about rehabbing his injury, but couldn't he, over the winter, have done things such as stationary bike or swimming, things that weren't going to put stress on the foot?

23 ChrisS   ~  Jun 5, 2009 1:30 pm

I think they should fire Girardi.

24 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Jun 5, 2009 1:34 pm

Can't see any contender taking on Wang right now. As many have said: trade value is very low. Non-contenders could actually worry about looking like idiots for $5 million pro rated (you can look like an idiot for a lot less!) though a team like Cleveland might see themselves as only 'temporarily non-contending'...

But, bigger pictures ... if Wang needs 2 (maybe 3) more starts to stretch himself out, if that is it, what's the damned riush? Maybe Cash + med staff were too quick to bring him back, maybe they were somewhat respecting (belatedly) a twice 19 game winner. But we can surely live with a couple of shadowed starts to see if and how he stretches, no?

Why are we in a hurry to deal? We also have Nady sightings and word they will wait till he can play the field, which suggests they EXPECT him to do that. Voila, instantly deeper bench. And I'm okay with giving Bruney another couple of weeks too, to see what the story is there, for the 8th. Marte, as well, actually.

Time for the ol' Hoss mantra: long season, Banterers.

(I do like DeRosa, mind you. Just not at much of a price.)

25 The Hawk   ~  Jun 5, 2009 1:39 pm

The mishandling of Wang is unfortunate, and seems to have set off a debate about Wang that probably wouldn't have occurred otherwise.

It appears that Wang will get better and hopefully back to normal. Hard to tell for sure, but I think everything that's happened thus far makes sense given his injury and how the Yankees handled his rehab. It doesn't appear that the weaknesses of his performance were due to some other problem. So: They just have to suck it up and put up with two or three short starts; they've done it plenty with Hughes and Chamberlain, so it's nothing new to the organization.

Assuming his recovery is full, they ought not to trade him, as they'll need him next year when Pettitte is gone. Personally I think he's good enough that they should keep him for the foreseeable future, infield be damned. Jeter can't possibly play shortstop more than a couple more years anyway ... can he?

26 ChrisS   ~  Jun 5, 2009 1:52 pm

McLouth also wasn’t on the market,

Ah, Cashman must be burning up the phones then.

nice player, but hardly for whom the Yankees should be spending prospects.

What would that player look like, William? Nady?

Outside of Ajax and Montero, the Yankees have a whole lot of nothing for hitting prospects and whole bunch of holes coming up. I'd like to see some of the pitching depth and fringe OFers exchanged for some legit younger position players and/or high risk/reward bats.

27 williamnyy23   ~  Jun 5, 2009 2:05 pm

[26] Right, McClouth would be a lot like Nady, so what would be the point in trading for him again. At least last season the Yankees had a gaping hole in the OF (like the Braves do now). Also, while Tabata is probably bets prospect in both deals, Hernandez and Locke combined are more than what the Yankees gave up. Finally, the Yankees also acquired a lefty reliever that they (and many) thought would be effective.

28 ms october   ~  Jun 5, 2009 2:06 pm

[22] i agree with your overall premise rbj - and hawk for that matter [25]
just one thing though - wang was on his way to pawtucket when he got called back becuase of the concern that the bullpen was blown after joba left early in the o's game due to the liner off his knee and that joba might not make his next start.
that decision - to bring up wang and cut short his ability to work on his mechanics in aaa was extremely poor to me and i thought so at the time. it was a panic move and someone else should have been called up.
i didn't see any of yesterday's games, but based on reading here and looking at the types of outs he got, i hope this is something he can build on.

29 jonnystrongleg   ~  Jun 5, 2009 2:08 pm

If the Yanks had more depth in the outfield, what makes you think the team or fan base would handle it any better than having depth in the rotation?

30 The Hawk   ~  Jun 5, 2009 2:18 pm

[28] I think that's exactly right. I still don't know what they were thinking bringing him up like that, he needed to get completely ready physically so he could optimally face down whatever psych-out he's contending with due to his poor start. Now he's not physically ready and will be thrown in the cauldron in Boston on top of everything else. I hope for everyone's sake he can deal with it, otherwise he may actually become a casualty of bad management.

31 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Jun 5, 2009 2:54 pm

[28] Actually, I did not know he was going to pitch in AAA ... is rbj right in [22] or not?

I'd agree it might have been too hasty to bring him back if it was only the Joba-knee-hit thing. Not sure of facts. Tend to prefer to have them!

Main point, is that it is unlikely a proven vet is ruined forever by not getting his confidence back over 2-3 stamina-building starts. I HAVE to assume the pitching coach(es) are on this.

I'm aware that some here think the Yankee manager and general manager and all coaches are cretins without claim to merit, but ...

32 ms october   ~  Jun 5, 2009 3:18 pm
33 ms october   ~  Jun 5, 2009 3:30 pm

[33] damn i still can't figure out html

my other comment is waiting moderation hoss with links to several stories that talk about cmw going to pawtucket and being called back becuase of the line drive off joba (if you feel like it google chien ming wang pawtucket)

i don't think they are cretins - just not above citique

34 ChrisS   ~  Jun 5, 2009 3:56 pm

McLouth is a better hitter, younger, and locked up through 2011. He would have been a much better haul than Nady. "Many" may have been in favor of acquiring Marte, and then signing him, but both moves were pretty dim in my view.

@29 - I think they need depth in the OF because they could lose three guys this offseason (possibly, though I can't see much sense in resigning Damon unless it's for a helluva deal), and currently Gardner isn't likely much more than a fringey 4th OFer (though I'd be happy if he turned out to be good, I just don't like banking on it when there are other holes), Melky is slowly regressing, Matsui can't play D, and Nady may or may not still need surgery (he either loses the season before his FA or he plays half a season and if you're banking on a contract, wouldn't you risk foregoing surgery to put up some numbers?).

The pitching staff is loaded, the minors are loaded with arms while the OF is not as deep and this year's FA OF crop is pretty lackluster. It's just a move for next year. Meh whatever.

Go Yankees.

35 jonnystrongleg   ~  Jun 5, 2009 4:14 pm

[34] sure, depth in the outfield would be good. but do the yankees have the flexibility and creativity and patience to properly accomdate depth? we know a large portion of the fan base and the media do not have those traits. does the managment?

36 RIYank   ~  Jun 5, 2009 4:16 pm

He was most definitely going to Pawtucket to pitch. I was minutes away from buying General Admission tickets when I heard he was headed to the Bronx!

37 RollingWave   ~  Jun 6, 2009 4:28 am

If I'm the Indians, GM, I would not trade Matt Laporta unless your offering Joba Chamberlain + either.

I think you overestimate the value Wang can net right now. he's got some questionmarks both in terms of health and long term effectiveness. and he's a arb player making money that's getting close to what most non-top flight SPs make on the FA market anyway.

Wang's simply more valuable to the Yankees than other teams.

As for the defense. Jeter's UZR have been in the average range for over a year now. there is a chance that this change is for real. while Cano / Teix have both been good with the glove so far too. Alex is bad so far. but SSS and hip injury is quiet a obvious problem here. he's generally been solid over the last few years at 3rd. (not counting this year, he's right about average in the 5 seasons at 3rd in NY), while the OF have been well in the positive territory thanks to some awesome work by Gardner and Melky so far.

Certainly, Wang could be traded. but your way too optimistic in your assement both in terms of what he could bring back and also on the health and development of our other pitchers.

for one, AJ / Hughes / Joba is hardly the picture of health. while Pettitte's back and age are serious concern as is CC's work load. meanwhile. I like what I'm seeing form Zach Mcallister... which is almost exactly the same as Wang's line . sure. Zach's 3 years younger than Wang was at AA. but he's also not getting a whole lot of GBs for a sinkerballer and his repetory and stats suggest that he won't K a whole lot more than Wang in the majors either. everyone else is a gigantic questionmark. Chris Garcia's IP totals over the last 4 years rivals that of Carl Pavano. Andrew Brackman's control isn't comming together even as a 24 year old in low A, neither's Betances. and both have health issues too.

IPK isn't instilling confidence. and Kontos is more likely a reliever than starter in the majors (if he was any good that is) that leaves the next best thing with a reasonable chance of not busting being... Wilkin De La Rosa, the man who has just coverted to a pitcher a year ago.

As for Melky, I think there's a reasonable chance his improvements are for real. his slump conincided a good part with him bruising his shoulder. and more impressively he has hit 2 really long HR this year . in fact. he's hit the Yankee's second longest true distances HR according to hit tracker. which suggest that he's really starting to improve his power a bit. and his approach has look good despite less results recently.

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