The Kansas City Royals have been a bit reckless in recent offseasons when acquiring starting pitching. Last offseason the Royals sent a consensus top-five prospect, Wil Myers, to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis. On Thursday, the Royals gave a pitcher that would have his picture next to the word “average” in the dictionary a four-year, $32 million contract. That pitcher is Jason Vargas.
After Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports broke the news of the signing, Twitter blew up with comparisons to one player in particular: Bruce Chen. Vargas and Chen are both soft-tossing lefties with good control and low strikeout rates. Both are very average, but only one is getting a large contract this offseason to essentially be a fifth starter. When did fifth starters start getting four-year deals?
The comparisons between Chen and Vargas are not just close, they are pretty much identical. From 2010 to 2013, Chen posted a 4.17 ERA, a 1.316 WHIP, 9.0 H/9, 1.2 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 6.1 K/9. In those same seasons, Vargas put up a 3.97 ERA, a 1.273, 8.9 H/9, 1.1 HR/9, 2.5 BB/9 and 5.9 K/9.
The statistics are strikingly similar. They are both strike-throwing lefties that give up their fair share of home runs even though they pitch in pitcher-friendly ballparks. The only legitimate difference between the two is their age — Vargas is 30 and Chen is 36.
With their latest addition, the Royals are now looking at a rotation in 2014 that will consist of Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Vargas, Danny Duffy and possibly Yordano Ventura. One great pitcher, two very average pitchers and two unproven young pitchers is hardly a rotation to have a lot of faith in. Nonetheless, like every season, the Royals will still be everyone’s “surprise team” pick heading into Spring Training because of their young core.