Anthony J. Causi

Jason Vargas did not pitch well in 2018. There is no way around it. After signing a 2 year, 16 million dollar deal with the Mets (against the advice of their small analytics department), Vargas had a 5.77 ERA, giving up almost 2 HR per 9 innings, and had his highest WHIP since the last time he was on the Mets in 2007.

At the end of the season though, Vargas pitched well. Well enough, it seems that the Mets are content with him being the #5 starter in what’s expected to be a strong rotation. If this story sounds familiar, you’re on to something.

In years past, the Mets have repeatedly bet on the health of their rotation, only to be let down by freak illnesses, accidents, and general fragility. Zack Wheelers 2018 was wonderful, but lest we forget an injury marred 2017 and not pitching for the two years prior. Steven Matz had his first season of 30 starts, but like Wheeler, has been injury prone or ineffective in the past few seasons. Noah Syndergaard made 25 starts last season after spending some time on the DL for a strained ligament in his thumb and hand/foot/mouth disease. Jacob deGrom remains at the head of the rotation, the only one without injury or illness in the past two seasons.

Which brings us to Jason Vargas. Even with GM Brodie Van Wagenan adding depth, the starting rotation seems pretty thin beyond the top 5. Seth Lugo, who I wrote about deserving the 5th rotation slot here, seems the logical choice should a pitcher go down. After that… Hector Santiago, Walker Lockett and Chris Flexen are the next few options. It makes Vargas a lot more important to a Mets team expected to compete. To be clear, if Vargas is anymore than a 5th starter, the Mets will be in a deep, desperate hole, either scrounging the trade market for another starter to stop the bleeding, or suffering a 3rd straight losing season. This is without acknowledging Vargas’ own injury issues, which flared up last season in addition to the two years prior to 2017, where he pitched a total of 55 innings.

If the time to win is truly now, and as Brodie Van Wagenan has stated, we are eliminating “ifs”, there can be no reliance on question marks to back up question marks. Vargas should be fighting for his rotation slot, not handed it based on a few good starts at the end of the season. The FA market is currently depressed, and presents many options that are either upgrades over Vargas(Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley) or who would present a challenge to his slot in spring training and could likely be had on a minor league deal(Edwin Jackson, Doug Fister, Ervin Santana). This is, of course, not mentioning Dallas Keuchel, who would be much more than a 5th starter .

Win now. Don’t rely on Vargas.