By Zach Gewelb
The Mets’ strong offseason continued with the addition of veteran southpaw Jason Vargas.
The club announced the signing of Vargas, 35, to a two-year, $16 million deal earlier this week. The move gives New York some much-needed pitching depth behind their talented but fragile stock of young arms.
Vargas was an All-Star for the Kansas City Royals last season after pitching to a 12-3 record and a 2.62 ERA before the Mid-Summer Classic, but struggled in the second half, pitching to a 6.38 ERA after the break. Despite the late-season slump, Vargas remained healthy, pitching in 32 games for Kansas City, which was tied for the most starts by a lefty in all of baseball.
In total, Vargas went 18-11 with a 4.16 ERA last season. While the numbers weren’t spectacular, he should be a welcomed addition to the Mets’ pitching staff, especially after the club lost just about every starter for a stretch during last year’s injury-riddled campaign. Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvery, Seth Lugo, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz all missed time, forcing the Mets to use their questionable depth more often than they would’ve liked. Bringing in Vargas won’t do anything but help the situation.
“We need to get back to the point where we have seven or eight guys starting all of our games and not 11, 12, 13,” general manager Sandy Alderson said. “If we can do that, we can be pretty good, and Jason really helps us in that regard.”
Manager Mickey Callaway, who spent the past four seasons in the same division as Vargas, praised the move to bring in the southpaw.
“[Vargas] can pitch,” Callaway said. “He is a guy who goes out there and does his job, a tremendous teammate and he gave us fits when we were facing him in Cleveland.”
Callaway also said Vargas will help create quality depth for the club this season.
“I don’t think you can have too much pitching,” Callaway said. “In our case that would be wonderful. It can only help to have good, quality arms.”
Vargas also brings experience and postseason pedigree to Queens. He started three games for the Royals in the 2014 season: one in the ALDS, one in the ALCS and one in the World Series. He allowed six runs in 15.1 innings pitched — good for a 3.52 ERA — and earned a win in the ALCS against Baltimore. His other two starts resulted in no-decisions.
Vargas’ addition also puts to rest the theory that the Mets refuse to spend on their team. Along with Vargas, the club also signed free agents Adrian Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak and Jose Reyes for a combined $88.5 million.
Alderson said at the beginning of the offseason that the team may look to reduce payroll. While none of the incoming free agents break the bank alone, the combined haul shows the team is willing to spend to get back into the postseason.
Still, the Mets’ fate is ultimatley tied to their starting pitchers. Last year, the staff failed to stay healthy and the team didn’t have enough depth to overcome all the injuries. This year, with clean bills of health and the addition of Vargas, the Mets believe their staff is up to the task of leading the team back into the postseason.
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe