The Angels have themselves quite the problem now that Jason Vargas is back and healthy (we'll leave effective off the list for now after his poor performance in New York). To trade or not to trade Jason Vargas? That is the question and no amount of talking to the skull of the Rally Monkey is going to make it any easier.
Jerry Dipoto has two primary goals heading into next season: fortify the starting rotation and rebuild the farm system. Vargas is an asset they can use to one of those things, but most likely not both. What is a beleaguered GM to do?
Well, if history is any indicator, Dipoto will make very well thought out decision that most people agree is ultimately the right move. That decision will then blow up in his face in a few months and everyone will forget that they originally backed the move and rip him apart for the cardinal sin of not being able to see the into the future. Darn that Dipoto, him and his stupid lack of magical powers. I guess they just don't make GMs like they used to anymore.
The supposedly decision that all indicators suggest Dipoto is leaning towards is trading Jason Vargas. Starting pitching is always at a premium this time of year and if he can find the right desperate contender, he could garner a nice return for the right to rent Vargas for eight weeks. At least that is the theory. The Rangers might've coughed up a big package to rent Matt Garza, but Jason Vargas is no Matt Garza. Vargas has also lost two weeks worth of utility by being traded this late and carries with him a medical red flag due to his recent blood clot issue. But when you consider that the Angels' top prospect right now is Jack Shit, they aren't exactly in a position to be turning their nose up at offers even if it means parting ways with a pitcher that they like and would like to have back.
What's that you say? Why not trade Vargas and then re-sign him in the off-season? That's a fine idea, at least in the abstract. The problem is such arrangements seldom ever come to pass even if it makes a world of sense. The mere act of being traded just has a way of making players this differently about just how eager they are to stick with the team that traded them. Don't believe me? Well, let's see what Mr. Vargas himself had to say about this very topic:
"It's been a while since I lived in California, but this is definitely where I grew up and what's real familiar for me, going to school down there for a little bit," said Vargas, who grew up in Apple Valley, Calif., and played with Jered Weaver at Long Beach State. "It'd be great for my family, it'd be great for me. It's one of those things that you don't worry about, because ultimately, you can't control those things."
But Vargas admits being dealt in-season would inevitably affect his desire to return.
"It's business, but I think it would affect anybody," said Vargas, who's 6-4 with a 3.65 ERA in 14 starts for the Angels. "You meet a new group of people. It's just how it works out. Circumstances change then. When's the last time it worked? Cliff Lee?
So, sure, the Angels could still re-sign Vargas but they are going to lose whatever advantages they have right now to sign him in the process. That means they lose a chance to work out a deal with him before he hits the open market. It almost certainly means that Vargas taking a hometown discount is off the table. The threat of hitting him with a qualifying offer is taken off the table as well. While it is possible that they could have their cake and eat it too, just realize that this scenario would mean the Angels would be paying top dollar to get their hands on that cake.
What the Angels really need to ask themselves is how serious are they about contending for a World Series in 2014. Do they really think they can reload and make a serious run or do they think that they might have to punt a little bit on 2014 in order to make a more serious run in 2015 and beyond? If it is the former, then trading Vargas would seem to go against that belief. They'd have to be certain that any trade of Vargas would involve getting back pieces that could help immediately, which isn't out of the question as they could pursue a Scott Feldman for Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta type of deal. They'd also have to be ready with a contingency plan of finding a pitcher to slot into Vargas' role as a reliable mid-rotation inning eater. Again, not impossible to find, but also not easy.
If they really want to win in 2014, keeping Vargas and re-signing him is a classic example of a bird in the hand being worth more than two in the bush. The club knows what they have in Vargas. They know Vargas is just about the perfect pitcher for their park. They also know all too well that bringing in a pitcher via free agency, like Blanton, or trade, like Hanson, is fraught with peril. And we all know that just because you acquire prospects doesn't mean that they are going to work out as you envisioned.
Keeping and extending Vargas may not sound like much fun, but it is the safe move. For a GM that has been burnt so badly in the last few months by his big gambles, maybe going a little more conservative this time around is just what he needs to get the franchise back on course.