Where are they now? The Chien-Ming Wang edition

From 2005 through 2008, Chien-Ming Wang was pretty fantastic for the Yankees. After a midseason promotion in 2005, Wang’s power-sinker quickly cemented him as a front line starter for the Bombers. He looked like a long-term piece in the rotation, exhibiting consistency and endurance at the head of the pitching staff. Then, in 2008, one trip on the basepaths during Interleague play in Houston changed everything.

He suffered a partially torn tendon and sprain of the lisfranc in his foot on his way to home plate, and as we all know by now, was never the same pitcher thereafter. Up until that point in his career, the Taiwanese right-hander accumulated 14.0 rWAR and a 3.79 ERA/3.90 FIP. His ERA and FIP were well above league average for the period (85 ERA-/89 FIP-). That stretch included a second place finish in the 2006 Cy Young voting, only behind Johan Santana. Wang was just 28 at the time of injury; who knew that it would effectively be the end of his prominence in the majors?

Unfortunately, Wang’s return in 2009 was a trainwreck. In his first three starts, he only tossed six innings, surrending 23 runs and 23 hits. He was subsequently diagnosed with weakness in his hips and placed on the disabled list, possibly a side effect of the foot injury in the previous year. He returned in May as a reliever, but rejoined the rotation in early June. Still, he wasn’t the same. Wang’s season ended in July, when he hit the disabled list again with shoulder soreness that would eventually require surgery. In all, his 2009 numbers were ugly: 42 innings and a 9.64 ERA. By December, the Yankees had decided it was time to move on. The team non-tendered him, making Wang a free agent.

Since 2009, Wang has bounced around the league. The Nationals tried to get him back into form for three years, first signing him in 2010. He didn’t pitch in the big leagues again until mid-2011 as he recovered from shoulder surgery, but he did show some promise when he finally made it back with Washington on July 29th. In 11 outings, he threw 62.1 innings while posting a respectable 4.04 ERA and 4.57 FIP. Not great by any means, but for a guy returning from significant surgery, it left some hope for the 2012 campaign.

Disappointingly, Wang’s encouraging finish to 2011 didn’t carry forward into 2012. Wang opened the season on the disabled list because of a hamstring strain endured during spring training. When he returned in late May, he only lasted a tad more than a month until his next stint on the DL (hip strain) which turned out to end his season with the Nats. In all, he appeared in 10 games (5 starts) during the year, posting an abominable 6.68 ERA. The Nationals cut ties thereafter.

Enter the Yankees, once again. The team brought back Wang on a minor league deal just before the beginning of the 2013 season. By the numbers, Wang was actually pretty good in Triple-A, sustaining a 2.33 ERA and 3.36 FIP across 58 innings. Yet, the performance wasn’t good enough to merit a promotion to the Bronx, so Wang opted out on June 7th. The Blue Jays swooped in and added him to their major league roster.

Wang, 33 at the time, took Toronto by storm in the early going. His first three starts were stellar: 20.2 frames and a 2.61 ERA. The fun was short-lived, though, as the sinkerballer was bombed in his next two outings. That was enough for Toronto, who designated him for assignment on July 2nd after getting knocked out in the second inning against Detroit. Wang returned for a September call up, and made one more forgettable appearance. He hasn’t been in the majors since.

Amazingly, Wang was still undeterred last year. He split time with the Triple-A affiliates of the White Sox and Reds, although he didn’t receive a major league opportunity. After the season, the Braves added him on a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, where he’s currently competing for a spot in the rotation.

As far as I can tell, Wang is a fringe candidate for the Braves rotation. Currently, Atlanta’s staff has three locks: Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Shelby Miller. Mike Minor would have been another lock, but he’ll open the season on the DL, leaving two spots open for the taking. The competitors include two players on the 40-man: Manny Banuelos and Michael Foltynewicz. The non-roster invitees, not including Wang, are Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez.

Per Ken Rosenthal, Wang has an opt-out on July 1st which gives the Braves a little more leeway to play wait-and-see with Wang. Stults can get his release by April 3rd, while Rodriguez’ opt-out date (if any) is unknown. For these reasons, I don’t love his chances of breaking camp with Atlanta, although he’s performed well until his most recent appearance. Nonetheless, I’m still rooting for the guy. I have a lot of fond memories of him in the mid-aughts, so I hope he can still carve out some sort of role even as a soon to be 35 year-old.

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