Chien-Ming Wang back to Nationals for $4 million

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The Nationals and right-hander Chien-Ming Wang have agreed to terms on a deal worth $4 million, pending a physical, says CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman.

It’s a larger-than-anticipated guarantee for the sinkerballer, who has made all of 20 starts the last three years. The contract will include incentives based on games started.

After pitching half-seasons in 2008 and 2009 and missing all of 2010 due to shoulder woes, Wang returned in the second half of 2011 to go 4-3 with a 4.04 ERA in 11 starts with the Nationals. He struck out just 25 in 62 1/3 innings during that span, but even though his velocity was down, his groundball rate was still among the best in the league. 53 percent of the balls hit against him were kept on the ground. For comparison’s sake, only 11 of the 94 pitchers to qualify for the ERA title did better, with Jake Westbrook leading the majors at 59 percent.

Wang will be part of a Nationals rotation also certain to include Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. John Lannan would be another given unless he’s traded, which would be a possibility if the Nationals sign another free-agent starter this winter. Ross Detwiler has to be the current favorite among the in-house candidates to round out the group.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉