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.
When analyzing the Mets acquisition of Wilmer Font, it is important to start with who Font is before turning to what exactly the Mets parted with to obtain him. When it comes to Font, the Mets really obtained a duplicative asset who wasn’t of much, if any, value.
Font is a 29 year old reliever with a career 6.39 ERA, 1.493 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9, and a 7.7 K/9. He has a career -0.3 WAR He has never made more than 19 appearances or pitched more than 44.0 innings. Last year, he pitched for three teams. That’s the way it usually goes for players with tantalizing talent who cannot translate their success to the Major League level.
He certainly tantalized the Rays last year with a 1.67 ERA (with peripherals which screamed regression) in nine appearances for them last year. Of course, the real Font returned this year. In 10 appearances for the Rays, he had a 5.79 ERA with a 3.2 BB/9. With him being out of options, it would appear it was only a matter of time before Font was designated for assignment than being a trade asset.
As we know, the Mets would step in and make a trade for Font. Despite having Corey Oswalt and Chris Flexen, two pitchers with comparable stats to Font, the Mets made the trade for Font. Instead of signing Hector Santiago, and touting him as a former All Star, the Mets made a trade for Font. Instead of calling up Casey Coleman, a pitcher with better results at the Major League level in his career, and who was showing he was capable of being that three inning reliever Font truly is, the Mets swung a trade.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. The Mets were well within their rights to prefer Font over the pitchers they already had. Certainly, F0nt’s ability to be plugged in right away helped his case. While that may be the case, the point to remember here is Font is a bad Major League pitcher with no value whatsoever.
The Mets then traded an asset for Font. The asset was an 18 year old pitcher named Neraldo Catalina.
Now, not much is known about Catalina other than his age and the fact he signed for $150,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Yesterday, Mets Minors had a write up on him. Basically, Catalina is a power arm with a strong build who was going to debut stateside this year.
There are any number of potential outcomes with Catalina. He could be like any number of teenage pitchers who sign out of the Dominican Republic who don’t pan out to be anything. It’s certainly possible he could be nothing more than a footnote listed in the transaction portion of Font’s Baseball Reference page. He could also pan out to be like Jeurys Familia, who had signed for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic back in 2007.
But that’s the thing, Catalina has the potential to be anything. He’s an asset, and it’s why the Mets used their bonus pool money to obtain him. After all, if the team didn’t think he was worth anything, they wouldn’t have given him anything.
It’s the same exact situation with Felix Valerio. Does anyone really know what the Mets had in Valerio? Probably not, but the problem is the Mets are included in that group of people. As reported by Fangraphs, the Mets don’t scout beneath full-season ball. This means players like Valerio, who played in the Dominican Summer League, aren’t scouted by the Mets. Considering short season affiliates have not yet started their seasons, the Mets supposedly revamped front office has not had the opportunity to self scout players like Valerio or Catalina.
To make matters worse, the Mets are trading players of whom they have little to no knowledge for players who are out of options and are on the brink of getting cut. It was Catalina for Font, and it was Valerio for Keon Broxton, who has been terrible. Yes, the Mets also gave up Bobby Wahl and Adam Hill in the Broxton deal, but that’s also the point. They included Valerio in a deal where Wahl and Hill should have been sufficient.
Should fans be up in arms over losing Catalina? Maybe. We honestly don’t know. He could be great,and he could be terrible. With him not pitching one inning in the Mets organization, no one can know anything for certain. But that’s also the point here. The Mets don’t know what they have in these players, and they are trading them anyway.
They’re doing it because they’ve become very short-sighted in their win-now mentality. That’s odd considering that mentality which does not extend to signing Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel or to guaranteeing a rotation spot to Gio Gonzalez over a terrible Jason Vargas. The Mets are also doing it because they’re playing the odds that even if Catalina does eventually succeed it will be so remote in time that no one is going to immediately link Catalina to Font or the Mets.
In the end, Catalina is a symptom of a problem. This trade is an example of the poor depth the Mets built this past offseason. It’s a further indication the team not only is unaware of the value of their assets, they also don’t understand the value of bottom of the roster players on the trade front. Mostly, it’s another sign of how the team is more than willing to do away with organizational depth and talent instead of actually spending the money which was required to build the team into the “Come get us!” team the Mets advertised themselves to be.