UPDATED, 10 p.m.: I spoke tonight with Chien-Ming Wang’s representative, Alan Nero, and he affirmed what has been clear for the past few weeks: It seems more like a matter of when than if for the Nationals and Wang reaching another deal. Nero said the Nationals are Wang’s “first choice” and that Wang is “committed” to rejoining the Nationals. An agreement, Nero said, will hopefully be struck “soon” after ongoing and “routine” negotiations.
“We’re trying to find the common ground,” Nero said. “There’s nothing contentious on either side. We expect to get something done.”
Wang can become a free agent five days after the World Series, but the timing does not add any urgency to the negotiations or alter Wang’s thinking, Nero said.
The Nationals and Wang have hammered out deals the past two years, but his unique situation add a wrinkle that could take time to be ironed out. Wang’s injury history will likely mean a deal laden with incentives and option years for Wang, the Nationals or both.
“There’s a certain amount of risk,” Nero said, “and we understand that.”
Nero reiterated Wang’s comfort with the Nationals, who provided support as he rehabbed from a virtually unprecedented injury, the tearing of the capsule in his throwing shoulder. Wang is motivated to repay the Nationals for how they have treated him, and it seems clear he will get that chance on the mound in Washington next season.
While they have not yet neared a deal, the Nationals have continued their contract talks with right-handed starting pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, who is eligible to become a free agent this offseason.
“We are in communication and we’re negotiating,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “We’re trying to negotiate a contract. I wouldn’t describe it as imminent or close. We’re still communicating. We still have a mutual interest for Chien-Ming to sign with the Nationals.”
Wang, 31, returned from a career-threatening shoulder injury and surgery this year, going 4-3 with a 4.04 ERA in 11 starts following his late-July debut with the Nationals. Wang struck out 25 batters and walked 13 in 62 1/3 innings, improving as he added velocity and rediscovered trust in his deadly sinkerball. In his last nine starts, Wang posted a 3.71 ERA and pitched at least six innings six times.
Signing Wang would allow the Nationals a return on an investment two years in the making. In February 2010, six months after his surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule, Wang signed a one-year, $2 million contract and did not throw a pitch all season. The Nationals signed Wang to a one-year, $1 million contract this year that reached nearly $3 million after incentives.
Getting Wang under contract would also deepen the Nationals’ rotation, an always-necessary goal made more essential by the status of ace Stephen Strasburg. With Strasburg on an innings limit for 2012, his first full season after Tommy John surgery, the Nationals will need at least a sixth capable starter for at least a large chunk of the season.
Wang will pitch for Taiwan’s national team next week in Taiwan in a series of exhibition games against a team of major leaguers, including Nationals players Michael Morse, Collin Balester and Ross Detwiler. The Nationals will not have any say over Wang’s pitch count since he is not under contract, but they have discussed his usage with Wang’s agent.
“They’re going to be very careful and realistic about it,” Rizzo said.
While Rizzo has made progress on a contract with Wang, he has not spoken with either catcher Ivan Rodriguez or right-handed pitcher Livan Hernandez since “early in the offseason,” Rizzo said. “They wanted to step away from it for a period of time.”
Both Rodriguez, 39, and Hernandez, 36, have said they want to return to Washington as free agents. Neither seems to be a main priority. Rizzo said he would discuss them with the coaching staff and “see what direction we want to go.”