Even though the Mets patched up some of the holes in their roster this off-season, something still seemed to be missing: another starting pitcher.
Now they have one. On Friday morning, the Mets strengthened their pitching ranks by signing the left-hander Jason Vargas, 35, who had a 18-11 record and 4.16 earned run average for the Kansas City Royals last season over 179 2/3 innings.
Seizing on a sluggish free-agent market, the Mets were able to land Vargas for $16 million over two years, according to several people familiar with the deal who were not authorized to speak publicly because a physical examination has not yet taken place.
The agreement reunites Vargas with Dave Eiland, who was the Royals’ pitching coach last season and now holds the same job with the Mets.
To underscore what seemed to be the Mets’ need for another reliable pitcher, consider that Vargas’s 2017 innings total topped every Met pitcher from last season but one — Jacob deGrom, who logged a career-high 201 1/3 innings. Next best on the Mets last season? Robert Gsellman, with 119 2/3 innings.
The Mets made it to the World Series in 2015 thanks in good part to their starting rotation. And they withstood to that rotation in 2016 to grab a wild-card spot. But last season, the kept coming, and the Mets needed 12 starters to get through 162 games. The rotation ended up with a 5.14 E.R.A., the fourth worst in baseball.
The Mets are now hoping that the new manager Mickey Callaway, the new pitching coach Eiland, and new training and medical protocols will prevent a third straight season of pitching.
The addition of Vargas gives the Mets stronger options in forming a 2018 rotation.
For now, deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, who missed most of last season with a lat tear, sit atop the Mets’ rotation, ostensibly followed by the often-injured Steven Matz and Matt Harvey. There are other rotation candidates as well — Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo, Rafael Montero and Gsellman. But no matter how the rotation fills out, Vargas seems certain to be a part of it.
Vargas is familiar to the Mets, or at least to Mets fans with a memory. He pitched briefly for them in 2007. And after bouncing between the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels and the Royals, he earned his first All-Star selection in 2017 thanks to a strong first half of the season.
Until Tommy John surgery essentially ruined his 2015 and 2016 seasons, Vargas averaged 190 innings a season from 2010 to 2014.
“He’s a guy that goes out there and does his job,” said Callaway, who was formerly the Cleveland Indians pitching coach and got to see a lot of Vargas in the American League. “He gave us some fits when we were facing him in Cleveland.”
Vargas’s deal brings the Mets’ off-season spending to nearly $89 million. The team previously signed reliever Anthony Swarzak, outfielder Jay Bruce, and infielders Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Reyes. The Mets’ payroll for 2018 will now be close to last year’s opening day total of $155 million, dispelling doubts that they would be willing to spend as much this year as they did in 2017.