The Nationals have until midnight to finish deals with their eight players who are about to become free agents, and since the end of the season, it's been clear that their top priority among those players is right-handed pitcher Chien-Ming Wang. By the end of the night, the team could have a deal squared away with him for next year.
Wang's agent, Alan Nero, said the two sides are close to a deal that would bring Wang back to Washington next season, adding he is "fairly optimistic" an agreement will get done.
Even if the Nationals haven't agreed to a contract with Wang by the end of their exclusive negotiating window tonight, Nero said there is enough momentum that it's unlikely Wang wouldn't return to the team.
"We pretty much have agreed in principle on what both sides want," Nero said. "We just have to work out the details. I don't think the (midnight) deadline is an issue."
Wang, who signed a pair of incentive-laden deals with the team after having major shoulder surgery in 2009, finally returned to the majors this July and went 4-3 with a 4.04 ERA. His sinker got sharper the further into the season he went, and by the end of the season, manager Davey Johnson was openly campaigning for Wang to return.
"He can have my salary," Johnson said in September.
The 32-year-old Taiwanese pitcher said at the end of the season he wanted to return to the Nationals largely because of how the team handled his rehab assignment. Wang missed all of 2010 while trying to build arm strength after surgery to repair a torn capsule in his shoulder. The Nationals paid him $2 million that season, and gave him a $1 million base salary in 2011 with incentives that allowed him to earn more than $1 million in bonuses.
Though Nero said Wang's camp would "listen to whoever comes forward" if the right-hander did reach the open market, it's unlikely he would be a free agent long enough for anyone else to snatch him away from the Nationals. The team wants to bring him back, and Nero reiterated that Wang feels a sense of loyalty to the team for working with him through two years of rehab.
"That's one of the reasons we've been negotiating with the Nationals," Nero said. "Chien-Ming feels very grateful to the organization."