After surprising the baseball world by diving into the 2019 trade season as buyers with their acquisition of Marcus Stroman, the Mets remained active in a more expected fashion as they traded veteran starting pitcher Jason Vargas to the Philadelphia Phillies. In return, the Mets received non-prospect Austin Bossart, a 26 year-old catcher currently putting up a slash line of .195/.303/.335 in AA this season. The Mets also are reportedly sending $2.9 million to the Phillies, meaning the team will save $2 million on the remainder of what was owed to Vargas.
After an atrocious 2018 and a rough start to this season, Vargas has pitched well for the Mets this season, recording a 1.6 bWAR for the team, with a 4.01 ERA (4.71 FIP). In fact, Vargas’s ERA will currently rank second on the Phillies’ staff behind Aaron Nola, and his 1.272 WHIP will rank first.
However, Vargas’s age, past struggles, and soft-tossing nature were all factors weighing down his value in a market where (most) teams are already hugging any prospects as tightly as possible. One need only look at the reasonable price the Mets payed for 1+ year of the younger, more dynamic Stroman to see that expectations for the Vargas return should have been muted.
So, absent a lottery ticket younger prospect, why even make this trade? Much as with the Stroman trade, this lower impact move could also be said to make sense in a vacuum. The Mets saved money and moved on from a pitcher who should not have been in their plans for next season—a rather sensible move for a team with 14.7% playoff odds.
Of course, that move was preceded by the Stroman acquisition, a move that would seemingly paint the Mets as buyers. And according to myriad rumors, it could well be followed by the Mets trading one or more of Zack Wheeler—more understandable in his walk year—or Noah Syndergaard or Edwin Diaz, which would be more confusing in light of these other moves.
Taken as a whole, this seems to be a lot of contorting to maintain faint hope this season and contend in 2020. And trading even someone as replaceable as Vargas for what amounts to pure (and minor) financial savings feels like another reminder of the ever-frustrating reality that “contending” for New York’s National League franchise always seems to involve balancing some mysterious, mid-market level budget ledger and hoping for the best possible outcome. Threading the needle, choose your own adventure book—there are plenty of analogies one could make for the circuitous machinations the franchise seems to be engaging in this season. One fears the most apt one may wind up being rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
So, yes—in a vacuum—saving some money by trading away a player likely overachieving this season and easily replaceable on the open market next season at a cheaper cost is not an unreasonable move. But roster moves aren't made in a vacuum, of course. Much more will be predicated on what the Mets do—or don’t do—between now and July 31. Grab some popcorn and let’s see what happens next.