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Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Hank Steinbrenner, Chien-Ming Wang, Salary Arbitration and the DH

On Sunday, June 15, New York Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang tore a tendon in his right foot and suffered ligament damage while rounding third base during a 13-0 victory and the finale of a series sweep against the Houston Astros. Wang improved his record to 8-2 for the season while lowering his ERA to 4.07. Wang was on the base paths after a fielder’s choice, and one of the results was the ire of Hank Steinbrenner concerning the National League’s refusal to adopt the designated hitter.

Kevin Kernan of the New York Post agreed with Steinbrenner’s assessment in a June 17 article. Kernan quoted Steinbrenner as arguing that the National League needed to join the 21st Century and abandon the game as played in the 1880s. Furthermore, Steinbrenner noted that "It’s OK for the Yankees to fill up the seats in the National League parks, they make a ton of money off us." Kernan seconded the observation - "Steinbrenner is right. Most leagues, amateur, college and professional use the DH, something the American League instituted in 1973." Although upset over losing the pitcher for an extended period, Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ position during salary arbitration in February clearly popped into my mind.

Wang had requested $4,600,000 from the Yankees who countered with a $4,000,000 offer. Of course, either figure was a big increase over his 2007 salary of $489,500. Wang wanted a long-term contract, but the Yankees responded that it was "not the time" according to Anthony DiComo’s February 12 posting for DiComo further commented that "the team’s reasoning, according to Wang, was that it’s difficult for pitchers to stay healthy, so there’s little incentive to sign a young starter to a long-term deal." With Wang not eligible for free agency until 2011, the Yankees had little incentive to grant Wang’s request. A number of articles noted Brian Cashman’s position that the figure chosen by the Yankees was the appropriate slot for a first-time arbitration-eligible pitcher with Wang’s career numbers.

When neither side budged, the case went to a hearing on Thursday, February 14, in St. Petersburg. The arbitration panel of Jack Clarke, Stephen Goldberg, and Christine Knowlton sided with the Yankees. The Wang decision was one of the six victories this February by the clubs against two losses. Jon Heyman provided some interesting insight into the hearing in’s The Daily Scoop on February 20. Heyman noted that Wang’s representatives "badly overshot when they tried to compare Wang to Michael Jordan." The Yankees argued that Wang had not matched Dontrelle Willis when he first became eligible for arbitration after a 22-win season in 2005. The woes of Willis since that breakout season are probably well known to most readers of this blog. The Yankees also likened Wang to Scott Kasmir, Joe Blanton, Freddy Garcia, Roy Oswalt, and John Lackey. Oswalt, for instance, jumped from $500,000 to $3,250,000 for the 2004 season. The Astros were rewarded with back-to-back 20 win seasons in 2004 and 2005. Oswalt excited the game against the Yankees right after Wang’s injury. The Yankees also stressed the great run support that Wang received.

The Yankees concern about Wang’s injury potential probably focused on his arm not his right foot. Albert Chen’s excellent Sports Illustrated piece, "Chien-Ming Wang Has A Secret" (April 21, page 44) detailed the rise of the Taiwanese star and the concern shown by many major league teams over the physical demands placed upon young pitchers in Taiwan. Wang missed the entire 2001 season after blowing out his shoulder. Chen pointed out in his article that the "grueling training regimens in Taiwanese colleges and professional leagues have been blamed for the short careers of pitchers." Wang had pushed his won-lost ledger for the Yankees to 54-20 (.730 percentage) with his victory over the Astros. He was on target for an interesting round of salary arbitration in February 2009. Now he faces rehab sessions, and Hank Steinbrenner will push for a change in the designated hitter rules at least for interleague games.


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