Does a Seattle Mariners, Jason Vargas Reunion Make Sense?

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 15: Jason Vargas /

It feels like every day for the last month, we have been running stories about the Mariners need to acquire more pitching. While most have accepted the fact that a big name arm is not coming to Seattle, there are still cheaper options available.

One of these names should be quite familiar to Mariners fans, having pitched for the team for 4 seasons. Jason Vargas, the left-handed pitcher who called Safeco Field home from 2009-2012 remains unsigned as of this posting.

Today, we break down the Vargas, his fit, and his cost to see if this former Mariner, could become a Mariner again.

The Player

Jason Vargas is a 35-year-old, left-handed starting pitcher, who pitched for the Kansas City Royals in 2017. He rode an incredible first half to his first career All-Star game. In his first 106 innings, Vargas posted a fantastic 2.62 ERA, with a solid 1.15 WHIP while holding opponents to a sub .700 OPS.

Vargas came crashing down to earth in the second half, as opposing hitter destroyed Vargas, posting a .900 OPS against the lefty over his final 73 innings. Overall, Vargas finished the 2017 season posting a respectable 4.16 ERA and 4.67 FIP over 179 innings.

These numbers are impressive when you factor in the fatigue factor. Vargas missed most of the 2015 and 2016 season thanks to a torn UCL, throwing fewer than 80 innings combined in those 2 seasons. These numbers generated a 3.8 bWAR in 2017 (or a 1.6 fWAR if you prefer). Solid none the less.

Before missing most of 2015 and 2016, Vargas had thrown 150 innings or more in each of his previous 5 seasons. While he has never been a strike out pitcher, he does have excellent control of his 86 mph fastball along with a good changeup. The combination of control, pitchability, and his current arsenal make him a really good #5, with some good #4 upside.

The Fit

Thanks to his years as a Mariner, we actually have a fairly large sample size that tells us Jason Vargas really likes pitching in Safeco Field, which makes sense, considering Vargas in a fly ball heavy pitcher.

In 388 career innings at Safeco, Vargas has posted a 3.36 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP. Vargas also pitches well in other ball parks in the division, posting a 2.94 ERA in 141 IP at Angel Stadium, a 4.43 ERA in Arlington over 68 innings, and a 3.33 ERA over 51 innings at the Oakland Coliseum.

Today, Vargas gives the Mariners a left-handed pitcher to add to it’s rotation along with James Paxton. He would slide into the #4 slot, behind Paxton, Mike Leake, and Felix Hernandez.

Signing Vargas would also allow either Erasmo Ramirez or Marco Gonzales to slide to the bullpen. Doing so would give the Mariners 3 relievers who could easily go multiple innings. It would also allow Ariel Miranda and Andrew Moore to start in AAA.

The Cost

Vargas, like most pitchers, is currently waiting for the first domino to fall in the pitching market. Finding a contract for Vargas is difficult. His reps will undoubtedly point to his first half and look for a deal to pay for those 3 months. However, the vast majority of his career has been as a #4 type, and at 35 years old, a long-term deal isn’t happening.

There is a very real chance that this is Vargas’ last chance to cash in during Free Agency. It is also possible that Vargas takes a 1 year deal to regain some value and try to hit it rich in 2019.

For the Mariners, a shorter term deal is a must. The maximum length of time the Mariners should be going for a pitcher like Vargas is 2 years. For our purposes, we would be comfortable with a 1 year deal, worth $8 million with a mutual option for $10 million in 2019.

At that particular price point, the Mariners can take a chance on the veteran. If he pitches like he did last season, he will be worth the $8 million. If he pitches like he did in the first half of 2017, it’s a steal. However, if he pitches like he did in the second half, he is just a sunk cost and you have other options to try.

Next: Hall of Fame Ballot Series, Part 1

Bringing back former Mariners is not a particular joy of mine. I would like to leave the past in the past. But in rare cases, a reunion of old friends can be mutually beneficial to both parties. This is one of those times.