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Jason Vargas looks to rebound from a disappointing 2018

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Meet the new fifth starter. Same as the old fifth starter. 

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason, the Mets’ front office spent a lot time espousing the virtues of roster depth. The team then spent a lot of prospect capital—if not as much financial capital as one might hope from a “large market” team—in building some major league depth. While the positional roster and bullpen look deeper and potentially much improved from 2018, the Mets eschewed depth and seem content to rely on their same five members of last year’s top heavy starting rotation in 2019.

That means a rotation still headed by reigning NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, followed by young guns Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz—but also a rotation still currently rounded out by veteran Jason Vargas. Barring a surprise spring training acquisition, Vargas enters 2019 entrenched as the Mets’ fifth starter—with little available depth behind him.

Vargas signed to a 2 year, $16 million contract late last offseason. This move was quickly first-guessed in many circles as an overpay for a pitcher who racked up 18 wins in 2017, but showed otherwise uninspiring underlying stats in that season, such as a 4.94 xFIP.

Vargas didn’t disappoint anyone expecting disappointment from him in 2018. After a late spring training injury set him back, Vargas got off to an abysmal start to his second tour with the Mets. Jason’s first 2018 start might have felt like a horror movie sequel to fans, as he gave up 9 runs in 3.2 innings eleven years after giving up 9 runs over 3.1 innings in his previous appearance as a Met in 2007. After Going to Hell in that first start, it didn’t get much better. Over his first 9 starts in 2019, Vargas pitched to an 8.60 ERA over 37.2 painful innings. A gory 6.61 FIP and disturbing 21.2% HR/FB rate indicated those numbers were well and painfully deserved.

It might have looked like Jason’s Final Chapter early in 2018, but Vargas turned it around late in the season. Starting with a solid outing in the Little League Classic on August 19, 2018 as Vargy, Jason saw a bit of a New Beginning. From that game through to the end of the season, Vargas went 5-1 with a 2.56 ERA and a 3.47 FIP. The soft-tosser even managed an uncharacteristic 9.31 K/9 rate over those final 38.2 innings.

If you’re an optimistic Met fan (How? No, really. Please tell me.) you could squint and see a pitcher who started the year hurt and rounded into serviceable veteran form in the latter part of the year. A season with the numbers—if not the mirth and sheer joy—of 2014-2016 Bartolo Colon would work just fine for this team.

Of course, health and consistent pitching seem a lot to ask, especially as clearly better options (hello, Gio Gonzalez) sit around unsigned as of this writing—pitchers that at this point will most likely sign for less than the $8 million Vargas will earn this year. Even if you have faith in Vargas to have a better 2019, not bringing in The New Blood to push/replace Jason, or at least to provide a more stable option than the Corey Oswalt/Hector Santiago/Kyle Dowdy grouping that would likely join the rotation in the event of an injury seems almost negligent. With little depth behind him, the Mets will have to hope a healthy Jason Lives, thrives, and provides solid back-end support to his younger, more heralded rotation-mates this season. In that best case scenario, perhaps Jason Takes Manhattan (with ticker tape) come November 2019.