In a trade market that’s expected to feature some effective but expensive left-handed starters, Jason Vargas could have considerable value. His $4.85MM salary is less than half of Wandy Rodriguez’s salary, and less than one third of Cole Hamels’ salary.
Vargas’ back of the baseball card numbers are remarkably similar to those of Rodriguez, as demonstrated below. But interested teams will note that Vargas is younger, faces designated hitters instead of pitchers, and will be more affordable in the short and long-term.
Vargas could slot comfortably into the rotation of many contending teams. He’s not an ace and probably never will be, but he successfully limits the opposition with a repertoire based on his changeup and modest 88 mph fastball. The combination typically results in an ERA around 4.00, twice as many strikeouts as walks and lots of fly balls in 200 innings or so. So far this year, Vargas has a 3.95 ERA with 5.7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 40.1% ground ball rate in 98 innings.
However, Vargas has been more homer-prone than usual this year and he’s generating fewer swings and misses than he ordinarily does. Just five qualified starters are inducing swings and misses less frequently than Vargas, whose 5.8% swinging strike rate is his lowest since joining the Mariners three and a half years ago.
Potential suitors wouldn't be looking at a three-month rental. The 29-year-old CAA client is under team control through 2013 when he’ll be arbitration eligible for the final time. He’s on track for a substantial raise next year -- possibly a salary of $7MM-plus.
The last-place Mariners, now 30-40, will presumably acknowledge that this isn’t their year within a month or so and start listening to trade offers. General manager Jack Zduriencik has dealt from starting pitching depth twice in the past year, yet the Mariners still have many young arms. The rotation of the Jackson Generals, Seattle’s Double-A affiliate, includes top prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker.
The Mariners probably won’t be able to trade Vargas for an elite hitting prospect like Jesus Montero. But Zduriencik acquired Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin and Casper Wells for Doug Fister and David Pauley a year ago. Perhaps they’ll see similarly intriguing offers for Vargas this summer, when some contenders will be willing to part with controllable players for experienced starting pitching help.