The Washington Nationals held a teleconference with D.C. GM Mike Rizzo this afternoon to discuss the signing of 31-year-old right-handed sinkerballer Chien-Ming Wang. The details of the deal began leaking within the last two days, but the press release announcing the signing didn't come out until this morning. SI.com's Jon Heyman is reporting that the deal is a 1-year/$4M+ deal though the Nats did not make details of the contract available. Rizzo described the negotiations as, "Amicable, professional and respectful." Wang, according to the Nats' GM, "... stated that he wanted to be with the club and felt an obligation to sign with us, and he didn't do anything that would detract from that. He wanted to be here and it was a matter of what was a fair deal, what was an amicable deal for both sides and we reached it fairly comfortably although it was a negotiation."
One point of contention, and a "big part of the negotiation" according to the Nats' General Manager, was an option for a second year on the deal. "We, of course, wanted a team option tacked on to the end of the contract, for reasons that, if we feel that a healthy Chien-Ming Wang goes out and has a terrific year for us, he's back on the market as a free agent. And for that reason, of course [Wang's agent Alan] Nero and Chien-Ming did not want to have a club option."
Rizzo said the two sides, "... kicked around a mutual option, but that didn't make much sense to either side," so they decided that, "... at this price point that we signed Chien-Ming at, that a one-year deal was what Chien-Ming wanted, he wants to prove that he's a healthy pitcher and get back on the market and be a free agent as a healthy starter with a full healthy season under his belt. I would imagine we would get the first right of refusal and the best chance of signing him if in fact that situation came about."
Chien-Ming Wang's return to a rotation that barring any deals/setbacks/unforeseen events this winter is expected to feature Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan and now Wang, leaves the Nats with a couple young arms (Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, Ross Detwiler) set to fight for that fifth spot and challenge the incumbent starters this Spring. "I really like the way the rotation is set right now," Rizzo told reporters, "I think that we have great depth there, we have great talent and we have upper rotation guys, we have some middle of the rotation guys and we've got some back-of-the-rotation guys. We've got a great minor league system. We've got guys that are knocking on the door and probably should be pitching in the big leagues this coming season and may not be. I think that's a tribute to where we're at as an organization."
"With that said," the Nats' GM continued, "We're certainly not satisfied, ever, because you can never have enough quality starting pitching, so it hasn't changed our long-term offseason outlook that we'd like to improve our starting rotation and the other things that we've always talked about that we need to do." The depth in the rotation could allow the Nationals to make a deal for what they need. "I think that we have enough pitching depth that we could trade off our pitching depth," Rizzo said, but he then went on to explain that, "... it's taken us a long time to assemble a deep farm system that we can be proud of and that is contributing on the major league level consistently and we certainly don't want to rid ourselves of that. It's important to keep the depth, we're going to make trades when trades are prudent."
Though the Nationals are still in the market for a pitcher, Rizzo said this afternoon that he thought the depth they had would enable them to absorb the innings Stephen Strasburg will miss pitching on an innings-limit this season in what will be his first full-year back following Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2010. "We feel that we have at least six or seven quality guys that we can call upon to start in the major leagues. We feel that we're about eight or nine deep as far as starting pitching depth in our organization, our system, so I think the Strasburg thing doesn't come into play that much for us now." The type of pitcher the Nats are looking for on the trade/free agent market according to Rizzo, is a, "... good leader type of guy that's thrown a lot of innings, that has shown that he can win in the big leagues and [can] really lead our staff, not just by having the best stuff on the staff but by showing how to be a professional and how to be a winner and how to pitch 200 innings in a season many, many times in your career."
Wang, who will be pitching with no limits now, having fully recovered from the shoulder surgery he had in 2009, will bring some of that leadership to the rotation, and the example he set in 2011 is part of the reason he'll be back. Rizzo described Wang as a, "... veteran horse that we're going to count on. We feel that what we saw at the end of the season, with another full off season to rehab that he should come to Spring Training 100% ready to go, so there will be no limitations whatsoever on Chien-Ming." Davey Johnson championed the idea of bringing Chien-Ming Wang back late last season, and Rizzo said, "We all loved what Chien-Ming Wang brought to the ballclub and what he brought to the clubhouse. He's the ultimate, consumate professional and really is a good mentor and a good role model for our young pitchers."
"Just looking at this guy," Rizzo concluded, referring to Wang, "You see this is a big league pitcher and this is how big league guys, look, act and prepare and I think that's an important factor in our decision to bring him back."