Mediocrity, thy name is Jason Vargas.
Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that when the standard happens to be the best baseball players in the world, but it’s probably going to be enough to signal the end of his career with the Los Angeles Angels, who are unlikely to give the pending free agent a qualifying offer as they already have their fair share of financial concerns.
For a team like the Toronto Blue Jays, however, average might just be good enough.
Well, as long as they can get it in a steady quantity, anyway. But should they consider prying Vargas away from the west coast? If there’s one obvious pro from signing a player like this, it’s that they pretty much know what they’re going to get.
It might not always look like it given the lefty soft-tosser’s notably average stuff, but he does have a track record of getting outs at a reasonable rate. A .265-ish BAA and 1.30 WHIP are to be expected at this point, but the real reason for the reason why the Angels decided to trade for him to begin with was because he’d developed a bit of a workhorse reputation.
The streak of longevity came to an end due to issues with blood clots in 2013, but he did throw 200-plus innings in both 2011 and 2012 as a member of the Seattle Mariners. That’s obviously an ability that Toronto will be looking for when they go pitcher hunting, and though Vargas would likely be no more than a no. 3 starter even in an ideal world scenario, his longevity will be a welcomed break from what Blue Jays fans have seen these last two years.
On the other hand … the adequate, if not uninspiring ceiling he offers would have a difficult time mitigating the potential floor. Despite his track record of steady mediocrity, there are trends that should worry the Blue Jays about the possibility of him taking the mound at the Rogers Center.
For one, he’s a prototypical soft tosser who lives on deception from the left side and generating soft contact (8.9 percent infield hits in 2013, 10.3 percent pop-ups), which isn’t really unlike how Mark Buehrle makes his living. However, unlike the Blue Jays veteran, Vargas doesn’t generate as many ground balls (1.33 GB/FB, 45.3 percent GBs for Buehrle vs. 1.04, 40.2 for Vargas).
Moreover, the free agent is coming off a season with a career-high 21.3 percent line drive rate, a number which should continue to go up if he had to adjust to the AL East. Given the up-and-down nature of his HR/FB rate, he’d be a significant wild card for the bluebirds, with a floor that could potentially be fairy scary even if he can eat the innings.
Given the overall weakness of the FA class when it comes to starters, there isn’t a particular issue with the Blue Jays looking to fill an uncertain rotation with some known quantities, even if they happen to be average. The key here, however, is to project how average would play in a hitter’s park in the toughest division in baseball.
Vargas’ particular brand of mediocrity carries a little too much risk, and the Blue Jays would probably be better off looking at other similar options to fill the same role.