Mariners 2011 Overview: Jason Vargas

We’re kinda running out of interesting Mariners from 2011 to talk about, so we’ll go ahead and make this the last one in the series.  Incidentally, this is also the least-interesting of those I’ve documented, so there you go.

A lot of Mariners fans have lumped Vargas in with League into the group of pitchers we’d be better off trading.  With each, we have only one more year of team control, and with each, we were looking at a huge pay raise (both of them in the $5 million range).  Sure as shit, earlier this week, Vargas and League got those huge pay raises, to the consternation of many, I’m sure.

Why pay $5 million for a closer when he’s on a team that’s destined to finish no better than 3rd in a division of four teams?  Well, for one, our bullpen is as big a question mark as any on this team.  And, even if there is no hope for postseason play in our immediate future, you still need to win ballgames.  For the good of the club, for the good of team morale, and for the good of not getting our entire GM staff fired and starting all over again.  League is as important as anyone in making sure we lock down those games we DO win.  And, don’t forget, it’s not like there’s this huge market out there for even elite-level closers like League.  What’s the point in trading him for some Triple-A scrub when we can squeeze one more season out of his arm and then get Type-A draft pick compensation when he ultimately signs for millions upon millions of dollars elsewhere?

I think most M’s fans understand this.  There’s just nothing we can do, unless we got rid of him solely to open up payroll, which I feel is pretty stupid because then who are you going to have closing games this season?  We’ve got nothing but rookies or young guys (and George Sherrill, who can’t get righties out to save his life).

What M’s fans have a harder time with, I think, is the re-signing of Jason Vargas.

They see a guy who throws in the high-80s, a guy who gives up a tremendous amount of homers, a guy who had a run of games in July and August that rivalled among the worst in all of baseball, a guy who seemingly ALWAYS turns back into a pumpkin after the All Star Break.  I can’t argue with any of that.  I can read the numbers.  I can recall what I witnessed with my own two eyes.  Jason Vargas, at his best, is no better than a Number 3 starter, but more often than not resembles a Number 5.  Paying upwards of $5 million for THAT seems pretty silly when you can get a guy making the minimum who will give you similar numbers.

The positives that Vargas gives you is that he’s kind of an innings eater.  He has started 63 games the past two years, with 393 innings pitched in that span.  He generally gives you a little better than a 2:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks, and last year at least he showed he can go deep into ball games.  Vargas, in 2011, had 4 complete games and 3 shutouts.  That’s up from 0 and 0 in his Mariners career up to that point.

So, at least we have that to look forward to.  In 2011, Jason Vargas SHOULD give us a pretty solid, sub-4 ERA first half.  Another interesting prospect to take away is Vargas’ September.  At a point in the season where you figure a guy like Vargas would be running on fumes, he surprisingly put up some solid numbers.  In his last four starts, he went 6 innings or more every time.  26.2 innings, 6 earned runs, 23 K’s vs. 5 BB’s, AND – maybe most importantly – only one home run allowed.  Was it all due to the Felix Twist?  Maybe.  Or maybe it was a coincidence that happened to work out, which happened to build up some confidence, which perpetuated the quality through the final game of the season.  Either way, I’m not ready to give up on Vargas yet.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t go out and give him Carlos Silva money any time soon.  If I’ve learned anything from Jason Vargas’ tenure with the Mariners, it’s that just about anyone can come in here and succeed as a starting pitcher, so long as he’s left handed and he has a decent change up.  If you try to tell me we couldn’t find one of those guys in the scrap heap each and every year until Safeco crumbles to the ground after eons of decay, I will punch you in the nose and call you a liar.

After losing Pineda, our starting rotation is in a little bit of flux.  No Pineda, no Fister, no Bedard.  Keeping Vargas around is probably one of the savvier moves we’ve made in this offseason.  He may not be a true Number 2 starter, but I bet you dollars to donuts he pops up after Felix in the rotation (to preserve that righty-lefty-righty thing managers love to do with their rotations).

Here’s what it looks like so far:

  1. Felix
  2. Vargas
  3. Iwakuma
  4. Noesi?
  5. Beavan? … Furbush? … Other?

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