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.