The Wang Decision


If I ever write for an editor, one of my contract demands will be to write my own headlines.  I get my love of bad puns from my father, who got his love of bad jokes from his father, who still takes nine minutes to tell a three sentence Reader’s Digest joke.  So I like this headline.  It works on a lot of levels.  The Yankees have a decision to make about Wang.  They don’t want to make the wrong decision (get it?!?!?!).  I could also see The Wang Decision being made into a decent suspense thriller starring a miscast Brad Pitt as an everyman who witnesses a murder and seeks help from Charlize Theron, an unrealistically attractive lawyer/reporter who begrudgingly agrees to investigate the crime.  Of course, the murder is part of a huge international conspiracy by a super-conglomerate bank/oil/media company, and of course they fall for each other, but we are supposed to think two impossibly attractive people would never sleep with each other because they come from different worlds.  He’s a middling insurance salesman, she’s a high powered lawyer!  She’s a career obsessed overachiever, he’s a loser conspiracy theorist!  Pitt…Theorn…The Wang Decision.  Fall 2010.

Now that I’ve beat that joke into the ground like a tent stake, let’s get to the issue at hand: what do the Yankees do with Chien-Ming Wang?  We all know his meteoric fall from grace, but if you don’t, here’s a quick rundown: he won 19 games in 06 and 07, then broke his foot running the bases in 08, and in 2009 he’s allowed 29 hits and 25 runs in 9 innings.

So the Yankees are faced with a dilemma.  CC, AJ, and Pettitte are 1-2-3 in the rotation no matter what, regardless of what order you have them ranked.  Injury is the only thing that will knock one of these guys out.  It’s a different story with Hughes, Joba, and Wang.  Six pitchers can’t fit into a five man rotation, and each one of the latter three have the potential to be moved in and out.  What’s a MLB team to do?  Here are 3 likely scenarios:

1. Hughes and Joba – For the immediate future, the Yankees will go with Hughes and Joba as starters.  The original plan was to send Hughes back down to AAA as soon as Wang straightened himself out, but if Wang’s relief outing on Friday was any indication, he still has a long way to go.  That said, we shouldn’t put too much stock into 3 innings out of the bullpen.  Wang is not a reliever, and we won’t have a true sense of how he will respond until he gets a few starts under his belt.  However, if Hughes continues to pitch well and Wang doesn’t prove himself to Girardi and Eiland, they’ll have no choice but to sit Wang indefinitely.  This is the obviously the best (only) option if he’s still struggling, because no one wants to watch Wang give up another mammoth home run like the one Raul Ibanez launched off of him.  That ball is still out there somewhere in the stratosphere, probably on a collision course with Pujols’ shot off of Brad Lidge in the 2005 NLCS.

Anyway, if Wang can’t start, what do the Yankees do with him?  They can’t bring him out of the pen, they can’t option him down to AAA, and unless they invent another injury for him, they can’t put him on the DL.  That means Wang will take up space on the bench, and use up a valuable roster spot.

2. Wang and Joba – The Yankees plan all along was to send Hughes back down to AAA when Wang came back, but things haven’t gone according to plan.  If Wang reverts back to 06-07 Wang, Hughes will most likely be the odd man out.  However, a lot of people want to see

3. Wang and Hughes – Which means Joba becomes the 7th and 8th inning guy.  I’ve always wanted Joba as a starter, but if the Yankees could field a rotation of CC, AJ, Wang, Pettitte, and Hughes, and afford to have Joba set up Mariano, I say do it.  I still feel Joba is more valuable pitching 200 innings a year as opposed to 100, but if the Yanks have the luxury of starting five capable pitchers without starting Chamberlain, then you have to put him in the pen.. The only reliable reliever in the bullpen this year other than Mo was Brian Bruney, and he’s back on the DL with elbow problems and is probably out for the year.  He’s visiting Dr. James Andrews, which is like a visit to the grim reaper.  He’s done.

I believe Joba is capable of becoming a legit starter who can go 6 or 7 innings a game while maintaining his mid 3 ERA, although last night’s outing doesn’t help my case.  I’m willing to give him a pass on that one because of the two and a half hour rain delay.  Even so, the Yankees might be best served by putting Joba in the pen this season.  If their rotation is in order without him, Joba will make a bad bullpen into a good bullpen.  I know I’ve fought for Joba to stay in the rotation, but if Hughes is going to hang around, move him to the 7th and 8th innings.  He can still throw 100 or so innings of rock solid relief and give the Yanks a chance to win tight games down the stretch.

The problem with that solution is injury.  What if someone gets hurt?  Does Joba stay in the pen?  Do the Yankees bring up Kennedy, or go to a long releiver in the pen to be an emergency starter?  There are no easy answers, but having six capable starters to choose from shouldn’t be considered a bad thing.

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