The Yankees signed two bona fide stars from Asian countries in the 2000's. After the disasters that were Katsuhiro Maeda and Hideki Irabu and before the debacle of Kei Igawa, Chien-Ming Wang and Hideki Matsui played vital roles on the team this decade.
Wang was acquired all the way back in 2000, starting at the one of the lowest levels of professional ball the Yankees could place him in (the short season NYPL) and didn't make his Major League Debut until 2005. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Hideki Matsui arrived via much fanfare after winning both the Central League MVP and Japan Series title in 2002 and joined the Yankees out of Spring Training in '03.
The graphic below follows the careers of the two men, both of whom are athletic heros in their respective countries. In many ways, left the Yankees the same way they came to them; Matsui a champion and a hero and Wang an unwanted minor leaguer. It shows in their salaries as well. Matsui has already made $73M in the United States and is due $6.5 more while Wang netted about $10M between the Majors and Minors and will have to take when he is given from his next team.
- The Taiwanese right hander was signed as an amateur free agent in 2000 and made his debut pitching in the short season New York Penn League for the Staten Island Yankees. He had a fantastic first season, throwing 87 innings at a 2.45 ERA.
- Wang injured his shoulder and missed the entire 2001 season. However, he rebounded nicely in 2002, compiling a 1.72 ERA over 78 1/3 innings.
- Amidst much hype, Hideki Matsui was signed as a free agent from the Yomiuri Giants of Japan and given a Major League contract. Expectations varied but many expected his prodigious power to carry over from Japan. He hit only 16 home runs his first year but did rack up 42 doubles.
- During 2003 and 2004, Chien-Ming made most of his ascent through the Yankees' minor league system. He began at Rookie ball in Tampa, and jumped to AA by the end of '03. Despite an ERA in the 4.00's during his time in Trenton, he made it to AAA by the end of 2004.
- Hideki Matsui's ostensible prime as a Yankee came in 2004 and 2005. He played in every game in both years, hit .302/.378/.509, averaged 27 home runs and 112 RBIs while striking out scarcely more than he walked.
- 2005 was the year that Wang made the jump to the Big Leagues. He wasn't pitching spectacularly in Scranton but when Jaret Wright got injured the Yankees were forced to call him up. He pitched 7 innings of two run ball in his first start and ended up sticking with the team for the rest of the season, going 8-5 with a 4.02 ERA in 17 starts.
- In May of 2006, Matsui broke his wrist attempting to make a catch in the outfield, ending his season and his consecutive games streak of 1768 which he had carried over from Japan. He was in the middle of a solid offensive season, hovering at a 128 OPS+ through 51 games.
- Wang's peak as a Yankee was high but it was also steep, lasting only two complete seasons. In 2006 and 2007, just as Matsui was relegated to the background, Wang burst onto the scene. He won 38 games in those two years (the most in the Majors during that time) and pitched 417 1/3 innings of 3.67 ERA ball.
- Matsui re-emerged in 2007 but injuries to his knees and hamstrings limited his defensive ability and he appeared in 143 games, 112 in left field. In 2008 he was injured again, appearing in only 93 games and putting up a 108 OPS+, the lowest of his career.
- On June 15th, 2008, Wang's career entered a downward spiral from which he has not recovered. He missed the rest of the '08 season and when he returned in 2009, he couldn't have been much worse, surrendering 23 runs in 6 innings in his first three starts. The Yanks jerked Wang around (/obligatory) calling him up after only two minor league starts after Joba Chamberlain got hit with a line drive. He alternated between the bullpen and the rotation for 9 more appearances before being placed on the disabled list July 15th and undergoing shoulder surgery.
- Hideki Matsui rebounded in 2009, having one of his better offensive seasons strictly at the Yankee DH. He hit 28 homers and drove in 90 runs despite playing in only 142 games. Of course, his career as a Yankee was capped over with a resplendent World Series recognized by the MVP award. He just signed a $6.5M contract with the Angels.
- In the process of rehabbing his shoulder injury, Chien Ming Wang waits in limbo. The Yankees declined to tender him a contract and he doesn't figure to be ready to pitch until May at the earliest. As such, he may wait until then to sign his contract.