Jason Vargas Trade Was Fine But Speaks To Larger Organizational Issue
Yesterday, the Mets traded Jason Vargas to the Philadelphia Phillies for Double-A catcher Austin Bossart. Considering Bossart is a 25 year old catcher repeating Double-A hitting .195/.303/.335, this is nothing more than a salary dump. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with that.
Fact is, Jason Vargas hasn’t been good for the Mets, and he is expensive. The team needed to unload him, and it was going to be difficult to do so.
Since the 2017 All Star Break, Vargas has a 5.30 ERA with opposing batters hitting .264/.334/.472 off of him. He has walked 3.5 per nine, and he has averaged 4.2 innings per start over that stretch. No matter how you want to manipulate or massage those stats, that’s not good, and it is not befitting the production you need from a fifth starter.
His pitching that way really hurt the Mets early in the season. It caused them to go to the bullpen much earlier, and it was one of the biggest reasons why the Mets bullpen was so taxed early in the season. It is not even about the Mets being under .500 in his starts over the first few months, it was about the lasting effect on the team.
The counter-argument many will have is Vargas has been much better of late. To that point, over his last six starts, he is 3-2 with a 4.46 ERA and a 1.165 WHIP. In a vacuum, that level of production is more than acceptable from a fifth starter. The problem is he’s not going to be able to maintain that level of production.
Over these six starts, Vargas has yielded a .227 BABIP while walking 3.4 BB/9. He is stranding 76.2 percent of batters. This is nowhere near what he is as a pitcher. In his career, Vargas has a .282 BABIP in his career with a 73.1 percent strand rate.
When you stablize his current BABIP and LOB% to his career norms, you get the pitcher you saw in 2018 and the first few months of this season. Put another way, you are getting a bad pitcher who you need to take out of the rotation. By trading Vargas now, they’re doing just that. They’re getting the bad pitcher out of the rotation now.
Even better, they’re dumping him on the Phillies. If you want to make that miracle run to the Wild Card, weaken one of your top competitors. While a small sample size, he’s allowed batters to hit .250/.362/.563 off of him in four starts there. It’s part of the reason he has a 6.23 ERA at that ballpark. Ultimately, he should prove to be a nightmare for the Phillies over the final two months of the season.
When you break it down, Vargas isn’t good, and every team knows it. None of them are going to buy in on six starts fueled by unrepeatable peripherals. Given what we know and have seen, the Mets were always going to have to salary dump him. They were lucky they found a team.
Really, if you want to criticize the deal it is taking on a complete non-prospect who was a former collegiate teammate of Jeff Wilpon’s son. Looking at that, it looks more like a favor to a friend than an actual baseball move. An actual baseball move here would have been to identify someone at the lower levels of the minors who had potential like the Rays did when they obtained Neraldo Catalina for Wilmer Font or the Brewers did when they got Felix Valerio in the Keon Broxton deal.
Ultimately, that is the result of the Mets not scouting those levels of the minor leagues. If you want to criticize the Mets for that, you absolutely should. Their actions on that front are indefensible. However, their actions salary dumping Vargas are eminently defensible as they are a better team without him, and the Phillies are worse off with him.