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November 7, 2011 / Nat Anacostia

How will Wang’s signing affect the Nats’ plans?

The hot stove league kicked off this week with the Nats signing Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year, $4 million contract. While the signing was widely anticipated, it is likely to have effects in both short-term, impacting the plans for the Nats’ 2012 starting rotation, and in the longer-term, where it may enhance the team’s ability to recruit international talent.

Mike Axisa of FanGraphs views the contract as a bit of an overpay. I, on the other hand, think the price was reasonable. Wang’s projected performance for next season obviously has a large variance. At the high end, the Nats are hoping for a 2.5 to 3.0 WAR performance, which would be consistent with his performance over eight of his last nine starts in 2011. At the low end, however, he is reinjured or fails to establish consistent command and doesn’t make it through the season. A mean projection for 2012 is probably about one WAR, for which $4 million isn’t unreasonable in view of the potential upside.

How will Wang’s signing affect the plans for the Nats’ starting rotation? At the moment, the opening day rotation appears to be shaping up as Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Wang, and Ross Detwiler, with Tom Milone and Brad Peacock (who have options) returning to the minors.  At least in Peacock’s case, I think the time in the minors can be helpful, since he needs to work on developing another pitch.

Of course, as Mike Rizzo has emphasized, the team really needs to have eight or nine starting pitchers available (especially with Strasburg facing an innings limit), so it’s quite likely that we’ll see Milone and Peacock later in the season.  Furthermore, Rizzo continues to pursue a top-of-the-rotation starter. On this point, I fully agree with Rizzo. While our pitching prospects have impressive potential, our current rotation remains weak in comparison with those of our main competitors—Philadelphia and Atlanta.

After earlier speculation about the Nats pursuing C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, the talk now seems to be focusing on Mark Buerhle. Rob Neyer of Baseball Nation concludes that Buerhle is the second best free agent pitcher on the market.  I think pursuing Buerhle rather than Wilson makes sense—Buerhle will probably require a three-year commitment, while Wilson will probably demand at least a five-year contract, which just seems too risky.  I’d still like to see the Nats take a run at Darvish, but Buerhle would be a good acquisition who would make the Nats’ rotation competitive with any team except for Philadelphia.

Of course, if Rizzo succeeds in signing a top-of-the-rotation starter, Detwiler, who is out of options, will likely be pushed into a long-relief role. I think that’s somewhat unfortunate, since I view Detwiler as likely to have a better season than either Lannan or Wang. And if Detwiler is destined for the bullpen, that probably implies that Tom Gorzelanny would be non-tendered. I’d sort of hate to see Gorzelanny go, since I thought he pitched pretty well overall with the exception of some bad luck on his home runs per fly ball rate. Another possibility, of course, is that Detwiler would be used as trade bait in Rizzo’s effort to land a center fielder. That could be a sensible strategy for the Nats, since Detwiler has established some trade value and seems replaceable by other prospects in the pipeline, like Milone and Sammy Solis.

Another aspect of Wang’s signing perhaps hasn’t received as much attention. Watching the Taiwan All-Star series, I’ve been impressed by what a major celebrity Wang is in his home country. I learned that the Nats games he pitches are broadcast there, which has the side effect of turning Nats players like Michael Morse into Taiwanese celebrities.

I hope that the Nationals take advantage of Wang’s celebrity to expand their scouting and recruitment efforts in Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia. I can foresee such an effort yielding dividends long after Wang’s contract is over.  In addition, an expanded the scouting operation in Taiwan would position the Nats to eventually move into China as that country’s baseball program advances.  At some point in the next 25 years, I expect China to embrace baseball, and when they do so, it will have a huge impact on international baseball. If our team can develop a scouting and recruitment system that’s comfortable with Chinese culture, we could have a leg up on an enormous source of talent.

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One Comment

  1. mlbblogger / Nov 8 2011 5:27 pm

    Great piece of writing…thank you for the informative read! If you are interested in learning more about the recently played 2011 Taiwan All-Stars Series and baseball in China, please visit http://mlbblogger.mlblogs.com and follow me on twitter @baseball_china

    Thanks!

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