By Ed Coleman
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After much speculation on whether the Mets would finally make a move to fortify their starting rotation, they finally pushed the chips to the center of the table and acquired veteran lefty Jason Vargas on a two-year, $16 million deal with a third-year option that includes a buyout.
Vargas is a former Met — briefly. He pitched two games for them back in 2007. But he spent the last four seasons working under current Mets pitching coach and former Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland in Kansas City.
The Mets were always unlikely to sign free agent pitchers such as Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb, each of whom would have cost them a draft and international bonus money. But they were monitoring the lower-case crop of pitchers, and when Jaime Garcia signed with Toronto and then the Orioles signed Andrew Cashner, the Mets jumped on Vargas and brought him aboard Friday.
Vargas, 35, won 18 games for the Royals in 2017, and it was really a tale of two seasons for him. He was outstanding in the first half, pitching to a 2.22 ERA over the first 101 innings. But he had a 6.66 ERA over his final 16 starts, and it might have had to do with workload as much as anything. It was Vargas’ first full year back off Tommy John surgery, and he logged 180 innings for the season. Vargas’ signature pitch is a great changeup, and he finished with a 108 ERA+ and a 2.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Vargas’ acquisition heightens the competition for the final spots in the Mets’ rotation. When Zack Wheeler was asked about another starter coming on board and what that might mean for him, he replied: “I’m just here to be a starting pitcher. That’s what I’ve always been, and that’s what I’m going to be. When I’m healthy, I know I’m just as good as anybody out there, so that’s what I’m concentrating on.”
Asked if he would be opposed to a move to the bullpen, Wheeler said, “I’m not worried about that right now.”
The Mets have now spent $88.5 million during this offseason and currently have a payroll over $150 million.