When the Nationals signed Chien-Ming Wang 11 months ago, Washington had just finished getting battered with more snow than it had since before it was the nation's capital. And the thinking behind the incentive-laden deal the Nationals gave the pitcher was this: If he came back from shoulder surgery sometime in 2010, he could pair with Stephen Strasburg to give the team's rotation a mid-season jolt.
Well, the snow has long since melted, replaced by a more typically dry Washington winter. Strasburg, too, has come and gone - he's now on the mend in San Diego after his own surgery. And the Nationals are still waiting to see if Wang can help them.
They've already invested $2 million in the Taiwanese pitcher, and they'll spend at least another $1 million if they keep him this season. With no Strasburg, they need Wang more than ever.
If the Nationals are going to add a front-line starter this season, it's looking more and more apparent that they'd have to do it by counting on - or maybe hoping for - somebody in their organization to take several steps forward. Jordan Zimmermann has the talent to make that leap, but hasn't shown it yet. And aside from the two 19-win seasons he posted on a pair of Yankees playoff teams, there's little in Wang's stats to suggest he's a top-end pitcher. But he has shown more capacity for success - at least at a modest level - than almost anyone else the Nationals currently have, and they might need him to regain some of that form if they want an improved rotation this year.
Bill James predicts Wang will make 25 starts this year, going 9-7 with a 3.99 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP and a 1.69 K/BB ratio. Is there anyone in the Nationals' organization that wouldn't be happy with those numbers? If Wang comes back to his 2006 and 2007 levels, he can at least add some stability to a rotation that will otherwise be counting on Livan Hernandez to defy time for another year. The Nationals don't have that many candidates to realistically post a sub-4.00 ERA, and Wang might not be a legitimate option, either. But he brings enough upside that the Nationals will give him a long look.
What do you think about Wang? How much are you expecting from him this year, and how much is realistic to expect? Let me know.