The New York Mets look ready to roll into Spring Training with Jason Vargas as the fifth starter and little competition to swipe it away from him.
Last winter, the New York Mets inked Jason Vargas to a two-year $14 million deal to eat some innings as the fifth starter. Ironically enough, the Mets front office used the fact that Vargas led the American League in wins to justify the signing.
There were already guys competing for a spot in the rotation last season, and signing a free agent to a guaranteed deal made the competition even heavier. Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman were all competing for the final two spots.
Of course, Vargas would miss most of Spring Training and the beginning of the season due to an injury to his glove hand. When he finally joined the rotation, things immediately went downhill. He gave up 9 earned runs to the San Diego Padres in 3.2 innings.
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Jason Vargas ended the year with 92 innings, and never pitched into the 7th inning until his final start of the year. He never threw 100 pitches in a start. Vargas finished the year with an ERA of 5.77.
Even with Vargas underperforming greatly in 2018 and with only 1 year left on his contract, it seems like the 5th starter job is being handed to him. As of now, there is no real competition.
Now, maybe the Mets are trying to be positive about Vargas. After all, he did have a 2.56 ERA from August 19th to the end of the season. Or, they just don’t want to throw the $8 million in the trash. But if they are just being positive, maybe they should install a backup plan.
It seems that Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman will be locked to the bullpen this year. Prospects such as David Peterson and Anthony Kay likely need another year in the minors. The only other starting pitchers on the roster who have seen time in the rotation are Corey Oswalt and Chris Flexen.
Flexen has not performed well enough at the big league level to compete for a spot quite yet, though he’s still just 24 years old. Meanwhile, Oswalt showed some promising signs of being a reliable spot starter but could use some fine tuning as well. Perhaps he has a great Spring Training and steals the job from Vargas, but keeping their salaries in mind, Vargas has an upper hand.
There are still many free agents out there looking for a job, and the closer we get to pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, those free agents will have to lower their asking prices. The Mets should be able to snag a man or two to compete for a rotation spot.
Dallas Keuchel is the one big name left on the pitching market, and while we’d love to see him in Queens I think the Mets big spending is done. Aside from him, anyone else should be fair game to come to Port St. Lucie and prove that they can outpitch Vargas.
Some of the remaining free agents include Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley, Clay Buchholz, Jeremy Hellickson, Francisco Liriano, James Shields, Edwin Jackson, Brett Anderson, and yes, our old friend Bartolo Colon. Any of these guys would be a good candidate to meet the Mets in Spring Training and compete for a job.
It has already been reported that the Mets have offered Gio Gonzalez a one year deal, but it seems like Gio doesn’t seem ready to accept that yet. Which is fair, since he would either have to compete for a spot or wait for a spot to open up due to an injury, which brings up another reason the Mets need to sign another starter.
Over a 6 month season, somebody is going to have to miss a start or two at least. To avoid starts from guys like Drew Gagnon, P.J. Conlon, and even Jerry Blevins who started one game, the Mets need some depth in the rotation. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz all have injury histories, and it’d be surprising if the four of them suddenly are able to make 30 starts. But hey, it’d be great if they did.
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There are about two weeks left until pitchers and catcher report to Spring Training. I fully expect at least one of the previously mentioned free agents to show up to Port St. Lucie to compete for a spot in the Mets rotation.