Is New York Yankees' SP Chien-Ming Wang Up For Grabs?

Tom AuSenior Analyst IINovember 12, 2009

NEW YORK - JULY 04:  Chien-Ming Wang #40 of the New York Yankees leaves the game in the sixth inning with a strained right shoulder against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 4, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Word is that the Yankees will not "tender" (salary arbitration) for their injured former-ace, Chien-Ming Wang, thereby prematurely making him a free agent. The idea is to get him to a lower base salary, with incentives. That's a penny-wise, dollar-foolish move that may backfire.

Although they pay top dollar for sought-after athletes, the Yankees have always been chintzy with less popular players such as Wang. For instance, after his splendid 2007 season, they offered him only $4.0 million for 2008 in his first arbitration year.

Wang countered with a request for $4.6 million. The Yankees took him to arbitration instead of ponying up the relatively small difference.

First, second, and third year arbitration players are typically awarded 40 percent, 60 percent, and 80 percent of what arbitrators feel they would be worth as free agents. 

FanGraphs pegged Wang's 2007 value at $18 million, meaning he should have been offered $7 million or so before his first arbitration.

But the Yankees' offer of $4 million implied that Wang's free agent value was only $10 million; Wang's implied self-valuation was a modest $11.5 million.

In arbitration, the arbitrator has to accept either the team's or the player's valuation; he cannot split the difference or go outside it.

To get Wang down to $4 million, the Yankees denigrated their ace's accomplishments, saying that he had a low strikeout rate, and a relatively high ERA (for a No. 1 starter), meaning that Yankees' hitting, rather than Wang's pitching, was responsible for his high win rate.

What they overlooked was that Wang pitched 30 games for almost 200 innings and consistently went six innings or more, typically yielding three runs or less, sparing Yankees' relievers. The operative metric is quality starts: Wang had 20 in 2007.

This means his "runs allowed" represented a low enough hurdle for the Yankees' vaunted batters to overcome in most games. Wang also won as many games in 2006 as Cy Young winner, Johan Santana (although the latter had less run support).

At the end of 2007, the New York Mets were almost $2 million apart with Oliver Perez, a truly questionable pitcher, but the arbitrator ruled in favor of the loud-mouthed Perez. Quiet Wang didn't defend his salary request nearly as well.

The Yankees did the same thing with the "aging" Andy Pettitte, beating him down to $5.5 million, after dangling a much higher offer that he didn't accept within the time limit.

Based on his production relative to CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, he should be on the "short" end of a $15-17 million range with the other two.

There, it was at least understandable; after an expensive winter signing Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett, Pettitte was signed with "spare change."

Wang has been close mouthed about the way he has been treated. But as an Asian-American, I would guess that it was highly demotivating to his performance in 2008 and beyond. At some level, Wang may not want to play, at least for the Yankees.

Such resentments often run deeper and last longer with Asians than with most Americans. Meaning that Wang might even turn down an offer of X from the Yankees for an equivalent, or slightly worse offer elsewhere.

In an earlier piece, I opined that the Pittsburgh Pirates should try to sign Ben Sheets. Or someone like him. Wang would fall into the "someone like him" category.

The low-budget Pirates made a "spec" trade for an injured Japanese player, Akinori Iwamura, making between $4 million to $5 million. Given his arbitration history and subsequent performance decline, Wang would command no more, possibly less.

High-budget teams want a "sure thing." Low-budget teams often prefer to take the equivalent of a long-shot draw to a straight or flush and hope to hit it. It may be time for Wang to go to a different team, and a different type of team


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