The Angels are 10 games under .500. They are 11.5 games back in the division and 9.5 games back in the Wild Card race. Baseball Prospectus and Coolstandings.com each give the Angels a roughly 5% to 7% chance of earning a playoff berth. Go ahead and cling to that hope if you want. We here at Monkey with a Halo would be ecstatic if they somehow pulled that off, but we are also realistic. In all likelihood, this team is toast. Come the trade deadline, they are almost certainly to be in a position where they should become sellers.
To that end, we are going to continue a series that inadvertently started last week with Howie Kendrick by evaluating each of the potential trade pieces the Angels have. Up next is the one off-season acquisition that Jerry Dipoto got right, Jason Vargas!
Out of all the trade pieces the Angels have to deal, and it really isn't that money, Vargas is clearly the most confounding asset. On one hand, he is an impending free agent, which more often than not means he'll be traded. On the other hand, the Halos are not your ordinary basement-dwelling seller. They have designs on contending for a championship next season and desperately need pitching to reach that goal. So do they look to move Vargas, or do they keep him?
Part of the reason impending free agents get traded so often is that they are generally available at a discount since they are really just a rental, something Dipoto clearly wasn't aware of when he mortgaged the farm system to acquire two months worth of Zack Greinke, and Jason Vargas is no Zack Greinke. While some might hope for the Halos to get a big return for Vargas, especially given that they swapped a quality hitter like Kendrys Morales for him only a few months ago, the expectation on that front should be tempered. Comparing to the last trade deadline, Texas rented Ryan Dempster, a more impactful but less durable pitcher than Vargas, for the price of two good prospects from the low minors. That is probably as good as the Halos could hope to do even with Vargas pitching so well. Part of the problem with trading Vargas is that his market will be limited due to the justified perception that he is not well-suited for pitching for a team that doesn't have a big pitchers' park.
Is that really worth it for the Angels? Two B-/C+ prospects who are years away? That's the question they have to answer because they have other options at their disposal.
Obviously the Angels like Vargas otherwise they wouldn't have just traded for him. It is a deal that has definitely worked out well, so it would be smart for the Halos to hold on to Vargas, who is both a local boy and a perfect fit for the ballpark and outfield defense. They could just skip the trade non-sense altogether and engage Vargas in contract extension talks. Or, if they want to see how the free agent market plays out, make Vargas a qualifying offer at the end of the year. $13+ million is a lot for Vargas, but it would be only for one season, and he likely wouldn't accept in hopes of landing a long-term deal. If he were given that qualifying offer though, any team that signed him would have to forfeit their first round pick. No knock on Vargas, but he really isn't worth a first rounder. That all but guarantees that the Angels would have exclusive negotiating rights with Vargas come the off-season, lining them up to get a team-friendly deal with the southpaw.
In a roundabout way, the ease with which the Angels can re-sign Vargas actually gives them more leverage in potential trade talks involving Vargas. He may be an impending free agent, but Jerry Dipoto doesn't *have* to trade Vargas so that he doesn't lose him for nothing since the system gives Dipoto the option of not losing him at all if he doesn't want to. With that in mind, Dipoto can essentially set a high reserve price on Vargas, say one B/B- prospect who is near big league ready, or he doesn't trade him. It is a lesser version of what the Brewers did with Zack Greinke last year because they knew they could at least juice a first round pick out of him with a qualifying offer.
That's an enviable position for Dipoto to be in. He either gets a trade offer he can't refuse, or he gets to keep Vargas knowing that he has all the leverage in the world when it comes to re-signing him.