It’s been nearly a year since veteran left-hander Wei-Yin Chen pitched in a professional game, but the former Orioles and Marlins hurler will be returning to the mound with the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. The Marines announced that they’ve signed the 35-year-old southpaw for the remainder of the 2020 season (hat tip to NPB Tracker’s Patrick Newman, on Twitter). He’s currently going through a two-week quarantine before joining the Marines, per Focus Taiwan. He’ll be formally introduced at an Oct. 5 press conference.
Chen had hoped to return to the big leagues in 2020, signing a minor league deal with the Mariners after being released by the Marlins following the 2019 season. Seattle cut him loose in June, however, prior to the return-to-play agreement between MLB and the MLBPA. The Taiwanese lefty wasn’t able to latch on with another MLB organization, so he’ll instead return to NPB, where he starred for the Chunichi Dragons for five seasons prior to his original MLB deal with the Orioles. In five seasons with the Dragons, Chen logged a 2.59 ERA with 7.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9, totaling 650 2/3 frames along the way.
That strong showing caught the eye of then-Baltimore GM Dan Duquette and his staff, who inked Chen to a three-year deal worth a bit less than $12MM (plus a club option for a fourth year). That investment paid off in spades, as Chen emerged as a fixture in the O’s rotation over the subsequent four years. From 2012-15, Chen turned in 706 2/3 innings of 3.72 ERA ball with a 4.14 FIP. His 7.0 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 marks were near-mirror images of his strikeout and walk rates in NPB. Chen averaged 29 starts and 177 innings per season in his four-year run with the Orioles, adding three postseason starts along the way (two very good ones and one rather poor outing against the Tigers).
Weighted metrics like ERA+ and ERA- painted Chen about 10 percent better than the league average in that time, given his tough home park, and he parlayed that quality run into a hefty five-year, $80MM deal with the Marlins. Miami lived to regret the deal, as the highly durable Chen was sidelined by an elbow sprain by mid-July in the first year of the contract (2016). He was limited to 33 innings in 2017 as he battled a UCL injury that ultimately did not require surgery. Chen returned to the Miami rotation in 2018 but struggled to a 4.79 ERA through 26 starts. He spent the 2019 campaign in the team’s bullpen but posted a 6.59 ERA, which led to an offseason DFA and his eventual release.
That release proved to be a blessing in disguise for Chen and a financial nightmare for the Marlins. Because he was cut loose in November — well before there was any talk of a shortened season — Chen is owed the entirety of his $22MM salary in 2020 rather than the prorated portion of that sum. His new deal with the Marines will tack about $290K onto that sum, per Nikkan Sports.
It’s always possible that Chen could make his way back to the Major Leagues if he’s able to revitalize his career in Japan, although given that he’s now 35 and a half decade removed from MLB success, that seems like a long shot. If Chen’s time as a Major Leaguer is through, he’ll wrap things up with a 59-51 record, a 4.18 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 over the life of 1064 2/3 innings in the bigs.
Chen certainly didn’t justify the Marlins’ weighty investment in his left arm, but he was also an overwhelming bargain for the Orioles, who paid him just shy of $15.5MM in his four years there. It wasn’t a strong finish for Chen, but his overall body of work in the big leagues was quite solid — particularly given that half of it was spent in the AL East and pitching his home games at Camden Yards.