Extension Candidate: Jason Vargas

This off-season has proved how hit-or-miss the free agent and trade market can be from year to year. While some guys are still up in the air, like Pujols and Hamilton, some have already brought in more than enough return to justify their signing. One of those Dipoto moves that have proved to be immeasurably productive for the Angels is the Jason Vargas trade.

Jerry Dipoto has shown how much of a trade wizard he is during his time at the helm with the Angels with moves like Frieri and Ianetta. The biggest move so far has been his trade for Jason Vargas from the Seattle Mariners for Angels favorite Kendrys Morales, a move which was bashed by some at the time due to the sentimental value Kendrys held with the team. Personally, I've never seen such a balanced trade in my life, one that has no clear "winner" or "loser". Everyone benefited from this trade, which is more surprising considering the inter-divisional status of the move. 

Vargas

Now that we've actually had time to let the trade simmer and see what Vargas can do he's shown to be a nearly irreplaceable piece in the rotation. A reliable lefty *cough* C.J *cough* with intense fire on the mound who can be counted on to continue a winning streak or snap a losing streak. His ERA has been floating around the 3.60 mark for some time, but it would most likely be lower had the start to his season not been so rocky. With his free agent status looming and the Angels desperate need to maintain a balanced rotation one has to wonder whether the conversation to keep him in town long term has already begun. If he can continue this pace, which is very likely, he will be a highly sought after free agent and the last thing the Angels need is a bidding war to maintain his services. He's shown to be very durable as he's logged at least 190 innings the past three seasons, which is something the Angels are desperate for considering how injuries have ravaged the rotation the past three seasons.

What I like the most about Vargas is, unlike the other lefty in the rotation he is able to maintain a decent pitch count without throwing 30 pitches in the first inning of the ballgame. While C.J. usually floats between fantastic starts and anxiety ridden messes, Vargas can be relied on to keep his team in the game if not completely overpower his opposition. He doesn't overpower too often, but this season he's already thrown two complete games in less than 100 innings pitched. With this bullpen, it's very important to have pitchers who can go deep into games if not take a game the whole entire way. Since the beginning of May Vargas has thrown less than seven innings only three times in nine starts, which comes off as a pretty good rate when you figure the rest of the rotation typically struggles to get through 6 innings. 

As you can tell I'm not too much of a numbers guy, I prefer to fall back to basic statistics and shy away from advanced sabermetrics in favor of evaluating a player through other means. What I like most about Vargas is his ability to bring chemistry to the clubhouse, especially with his previous experience with pitching in a rotation featuring Jered Weaver as the star pitcher. I don't need to tell you that he pitched with Weaver back in college since everyone mentions that every time his face graces a TV screen, even though I just mentioned it now. Despite Dipoto bringing in talented players he has more or less dismantled the team chemistry in astounding ways, the main one being letting Torii Hunter go in order to bring in a "big money star player". This clearly has not worked the past two seasons and with the loss of Hunter it's become clear how valuable his leadership was to the clubhouse and how much the players miss his presence (good news is there's still a decent chance he could return to Anaheim after his contract with Detroit runs up). Dipoto has flirted with spending big the past two off-seasons, but now it's time to start spending smart and extending Vargas is the best way to get that train rolling. 

The free agent market on starting pitchers next year is very dry aside from a few serviceable starters and some slight standouts like Matt Garza or the high-risk high-reward Tim Lincecum. I'm not too interested in exploring any more possible gambles with the free agent market after the past couple off-seasons, and the Angels will find nothing on the trade market with their serious lack on depth in the minors. Building from within is what the Angels need to do, and based off of Vargas current salary of 8.5 million it won't be hard to rope him in with a slight raise and the promise of long-term work. Even if the Angels tread the free agent market for starting pitchers over Vargas they still won't find anyone more attractive of an option than him given his age compared to the rest of the free agent class. If the Angels are looking to replace anyone in the rotation it should be Joe Blanton, but given the fact that they currently have the superb Jerome Williams and young but shaky Garrett Richards they won't need to tour the free agent market to do that.

There isn't much persuading to do when it comes to a Jason Vargas extension, his pitching and the status of the Angels current rotation does enough persuading on its own to show Vargas needs to be extended. Dipoto won't have to overpay for good production like he has in recent years and the Angels will get to keep together a core that has slowly been dismantled over the course of the past few years. If the Angels can extend Vargas and not have to worry about having to battle for his services over free agency (which they would do anyway if they let him go) then that'll be one less problem Dipoto has going into next season. It's never been more clear to Angel fans how important pitching is, we might have thought we knew the truth behind that statement back when the Angels starting rotation would give up no more than 3 earned runs a game while the blowpen would regularly blow leads but it's never been more true than now. This is easily one of the worst pitching staffs the Angels have had in a long, long, LONG time; the team already has a good offensive core to work off of and if Scioscia could be damned to move Pujols out of the three hole the Angels offense would be no worry at all in the coming seasons. 

No more having to worry about whether the pitching staff can hold a 6 run lead against the Dodgers, or if they can keep the opposing offense from outscoring them 10-8. With an offense that can put up 5-8 runs a night we shouldn't have to worry about consistent winning, but with this pitching it's a very real worry to have. The Angels need to work on fixing the future of the staff by extending Vargas long-term. It'll be the first step in creating a truly dominant pitching staff.

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