Mariners Replace Vargas with…Vargas?

Hidden underneath the Felix Hernandez hullabaloo, one might not have noticed that the Mariners signed lefty Joe Saunders to a one-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $6M, possibly with an option for 2014. Without knowing the specifics of the contract, this is still a deal I was hoping the M’s would make.

Back in November, I wrote about the importance of improving the current staff before the Big Three are ready. I was hoping for a number 2 starter to bump everyone down a slot in the rotation, and then the team went in the opposite direction, trading away Jason Vargas. That left us here:

1) Felix

2) Iwakuma

3) Ramirez

4) Beavan

5) Noesi? Furbush? Hultzen?

Counting on any more than zero WAR from Noesi, et. al. would have been somewhat optimistic, considering Noesi lit up the leaderboards for -0.7 fWAR last season, Furbush hasn’t started in more than a year, and Hultzen gave up a walk rate of 14% in the high minors last season. The addition of Saunders to the rotation adds an expected 2-ish wins for the M’s this season because he is effectively replacing a steaming pile of manure—from a baseball perspective, anyway.

Getting to know Saunders a little better basically requires that you remember that guy mentioned up there named Vargas. Check out the similarities over the last three seasons:

William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Stat Vargas Saunders


















FB Velocity







Saunders throws a little harder, though neither throws fireballs, and he gives up fewer fly balls. Vargas had a slightly better K/BB ratio, and edged Saunders in ERA and park-adjusted xFIP. In the end, both contributed equal amounts of WAR to his team. But we have to remember that Vargas was playing in a ballpark practically built for him. While WAR does account for ballparks to a certain extent, it’s not tailored to adjust for individual players. Vargas had a special relationship with SafeCo that should have made his wife jealous. Even if we account for moving in the fences, Saunders can probably still expect to get extra value out of the marine air, solid outfield defense, and whatever other voodoo is at work in SafeCo.

And hey, if the salary reports are true, Saunders will cost less than Vargas this season. So it’s kind of like we got a cost-controlled Kendrys Morales,  along with a cheaper Jason Vargas, for Jason Vargas. If you can’t tell, I really like this signing.

Topics: Jason Vargas, Joe Saunders, Seattle Mariners

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